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Senate confirms lesbian, trans nominees to high-profile defense roles

by Chris Johnson, Washington Blade

Gina Ortiz Jones, left, and Shawn Skelly have been confirmed by the U.S. Senate to high-level defense posts in the Biden administration. Photos: Michael Key/Washington Blade
Gina Ortiz Jones, left, and Shawn Skelly have been confirmed by the U.S. Senate to high-level defense posts in the Biden administration. Photos: Michael Key/Washington Blade  

The U.S. Senate confirmed on July 20 two LGBTQ Biden nominees for high-profile positions at the Defense Department by unanimous consent.

Gina Ortiz Jones, a lesbian and former Air Force pilot and Texas congressional candidate, was confirmed as under secretary of the Air Force. Shawn Skelly, a trans woman who is a 20-year U.S. Navy veteran and a defense appointee in the Obama administration, was confirmed as assistant secretary of defense for readiness.

For the second time in U.S. history, the Senate has confirmed an openly transgender person as a presidential appointee — and did so without controversy by unanimous consent.

Just months ago, Dr. Rachel Levine was confirmed as assistant secretary of health on a party-line basis after enduring rude, invasive questioning from Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) during her confirmation hearing on transgender health care.

Jones has also made an achievement through Senate approval: she's the first out lesbian to win confirmation to serve in a high-level defense position.

The Senate confirmation of the nominees by unanimous consent is consistent with their confirmation hearing, which both Jones and Skelly breezed through without hostility.

Annise Parker, president of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, pointed out in a July 22 statement the two newly confirmed presidential appointees both served in the U.S. military under bans against LGBTQ people in the armed forces.

"Gina and Shawn served their country when living openly could result in discharge and a lost career, so their ascension to key leadership positions is a powerful moment for those servicemembers who served or continue to serve in silence," Parker stated. "Their confirmation will transform perceptions of LGBTQ people within the ranks of the U.S. military, but also among the leaders of militaries we work with around the world."

Another out LGBTQ person nominated by Biden for a high-profile defense role is Brenda Sue Fulton, whom Biden nominated to become assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs. Her nomination, however, has not even had a hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee. It's unclear why her nomination hasn't moved forward.

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