Pentagon to host salute of gay troops

Two women, both active duty sailors in the Navy who gave their names as Nikki, left, and Lisa, kiss as they march in the Gay Pride Parade in San Diego Saturday, July 16, 2011. Almost a year later, the Pentagon marked gay pride month by hosting a panel discussion. AP Photo/Gregory Bull

(CBS/AP) WASHINGTON - Last summer, gays in the military dared not admit their sexual orientation. This summer, the Pentagon will salute them, marking gay pride month just as it marks other celebrations honoring racial or ethnic groups.

Officials said Thursday that they're planning the first-ever event to recognize gay and lesbian troops. They declined to give details about what the event will be, but officials said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta feels it's important to recognize the service of gays in the armed forces.

June is gay pride month in the U.S. This is the first time the Pentagon could participate, since September's repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." Under the 1993 law, troops were kicked out for talking about their sexual orientation and more than 13,000 lost their jobs.

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The public acceptance by military leaders of gays in the military has been increasing. In December, a Navy tradition caught up with the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" when two women sailors became the first to share the coveted "first kiss" on the pier after one of them returned from 80 days at sea.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta of Placerville, California, descended from the USS Oak Hill amphibious landing ship and shared a quick kiss in the rain with her partner, Petty Officer 3rd Class Citlalic Snell of Los Angeles. Gaeta, 23, wore her Navy dress uniform while Snell, 22, wore a black leather jacket, scarf and blue jeans. The crowd screamed and waved flags around them.

"It's something new, that's for sure," Gaeta told reporters after the kiss. "It's nice to be able to be myself. It's been a long time coming."

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