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Gays in the U.S. Military

History of US military policies,
towards gays from 1776 to 2009

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History of US military policies:

bullet 1776: First discharge: General George Washington approved the dishonorable discharge of Lieutenant Frederick Gotthold Enslin who had been found guilty of sodomy and perjury. At the time "sodomy" or "crime against nature" could involve either oral or anal sexual intercourse. 1
bullet 1942: Separation policy: Previous to World War II, sexually active homosexuals could be prosecuted under the Articles of War. Starting in 1942 persons with a homosexual or bisexual orientation -- even though celibate -- could alternately be given a "blue discharge" and separated from the armed forces. They would not be eligible for the Veterans Administration's G.I. Bill benefits. 1
bullet 1947: Blue discharges replaced: A member of the armed forces who was found to have a homosexual or bisexual orientation while in-service would now receive an "undesirable discharge." Any found guilty of same-sex behavior would be "dishonorably discharged."
bullet 1957: Crittenden Report: Navy Captain S.H. Crittenden, Jr. conducted a United States Navy Board of Inquiry and issued a "Report of the Board Appointed to Prepare and Submit Recommendations to the Secretary of the Navy for the Revision of Policies, Procedures and Directives Dealing With Homosexuals. It found that there was "no sound basis for the belief that homosexuals posed a security risk." 2 The report found that "...the number of cases of blackmail as a result of past investigations of homosexuals is negligible." Apparently, the Navy found the report too threatening to release. 3 Twenty years and one court order later, the Navy was forced to make the report publicly available. Two more studies, conducted between 1957 and 1987 reached the same conclusion.
bullet 1975: Test case launched: After 12 years of exemplary service in the Air Force, Tech. Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, agreed to create a test case challenging the armed forces' discriminatory policies against gays and bisexuals. He had received a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, and shrapnel wounds in service to his country. He volunteered to tell his superiors that he was gay, and went public with his situation. His case was covered on the front page of the New York Times, He made the cover of Time Magazine for 1975-SEP-08. All of the major TV news programs covered the story. He fought for an honorable discharge for years in the courts. He was finally successful; the court ruled that the Air Force had failed to justify their discrimination against him.

bullet 1992: Clinton promised to lift the ban on homosexuals and bisexuals: While campaigning for the Presidency, Bill  Clinton promised to eliminate the ban on homosexuals and bisexuals in the military, and allow qualified persons of all sexual orientations to serve.
bullet 1993-JUL-19: "Don't ask, don't tell policy (DADT):" President Clinton, faced with strong opposition from military leaders, broke his promise by introducing the DADT policy. He said that the policy would establish:

"... a decent regard for the legitimate privacy and associational rights of all service members." 4 " 'Don't Tell,' while prohibiting public statements of sexual orientation to the military, allows for 'personal and private' communications between gay service members and their families, friends and others. It protects service members' freedom of association with friends and extracurricular organizations. The policy further allows for [confidential] disclosure of sexual orientation by gay service members to defense attorneys, chaplains, security clearance personnel and, in limited circumstances, doctors who are treating patients for HIV." 5

However, gays, lesbians and bisexuals are effectively cut off from counseling and other mental health services because physicians, psychologists and others are not required to keep confidential any conversations during therapy. Some therapists and doctors routinely report any non-heterosexuals that they find to their commanding officers for investigation. Many gays and lesbians who are the victims of harassment or assault often dare not report the incidents out of fear of being ejected from the military. This frequently makes them sitting ducks for homophobes who enjoy engaging in gay bashing.

Since the DADT is backed by an act of Congress that President Clinton signed into law, the only way that it can be terminated is to have Congress repeal the law and have presidential approval. However, the current president could take an executive action to stop implementing the DADT law until it can be reviewed by Congress. 9
bullet 2000-MAR status report on harassment in the military: The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) issued a report on 2000-MAR-9 titled "Conduct Unbecoming: Sixth annual report on "Don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue, don't harass." 6 The SLDN is the main legal support group defending gays and lesbians in the military. They are widely known throughout the armed forces as a safe, confidential, underground network. The SLDN report cited:
bullet 968 incidences of harassment of gays and lesbians in the armed forces reported to them by individual servicemen and women 1999.
bullet The 1999 events ranged in severity from taunts and physical assaults to the murder of Pfc. Barry Winchell at Ft. Campbell, KY.
bullet This represents a 142% increase over 1998 and about a 500% increase over 1997. It is not known whether these data are related to an actual increase in harassment or whether the increase can be attributed to the SLDN having a higher profile.
bullet Incidents remained fairly constant during 1999, with a slight increase noted after the murder.
bullet They reported that: "Witch hunts, physical abuse by investigators, and criminal prosecutions of lesbian, gay and bisexual service members have all subsided."
bullet Discharges for homosexuality dropped 10 percent from 1998, after several years of steady increases. 
bullet There were 1,034 discharges in 1999 related to homosexuality -- a 73 percent increase from before "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue" policy was announced by President Clinton.
bullet Discharges are on the rise for women. Although only 14% of the armed force personnel are women, lesbians accounted for 31% of the sexual orientation based discharges in 1999 -- the highest percentage in at least two decades.
bullet The U.S. Air Force continues to lead all services in gay discharges.
bullet The SLDN rated the Army's training course against homophobia as the most effective in the forces. 7

On the day that the SLDN report was released, the Pentagon announced that it was considering changing a policy that would allow gay service members to be granted confidentiality when they discuss matters with a doctor, psychologist, or other health professional. Without confidentiality during therapy, gays and lesbians are largely cut off from counseling within the armed forces. Yet, of all groups within the military, homosexuals may well be the one most in need of a safety valve. The current policy is ambiguous: health care workers are neither required to remain silent about a client's sexual orientation, nor are they required to report gays and lesbians. Michelle Benecke, Executive Director of SLDN responded:

"That's excellent! That is really big news. That is the first time they have ever given a centimeter on's a very serious issue to our clients...Medical- and mental-health people provide a real relief valve for service members in trouble. There are people who've been driven to suicide because there is no safe place for them to go with this secret."

bullet 2007-Fall: Obama commits to ending DADT: Barack Obama, while on the campaign trail in 2007 addressed the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) saying: "America is ready to get rid of the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy. That work should have started long ago. It will start when I take office."
bullet 2009-JAN-15: Ending DADT must wait: Robert Gibbs, a spokesperson for President Obama, said:

"There are many challenges facing our nation now and the president-elect is focused first and foremost on jump-starting this economy. So not everything will get done in the beginning but he's committed to following through with ending the policy against being openly gay in the military." 8

bullet 2009-APR-30: West Point debate on gays in the military: Two students at the West Point, NY, military academy debated President Obama's pledge to end the DADT policy in the military. Daniel Szatkowski, a senior from Edmond, OK said: "From what I've heard from my classmates, people are kind of against it." Adrienne Rolle, a senior from Brooklyn, NY said she had no problem with lifting the ban, although she said that some of her male classmates did. Commenting on the fact that homosexuals are currently serving in the military, she said: "People are more comfortable with ignorance."

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Don't ask, don't tell," Wikipedia as at: 2009-JUN-09, at:
  2. Chuck Stewart, "Homosexuality and the Law," Page 81 & 82. Online at:
  3. K. Dyer, "Gays in Uniform: The Pentagon Secret Report," Alyson Press, (1990).
  4. President W.J. Clinton, "Text of Remarks Announcing the New Policy," Washington Post, 1993-JUL-20, Page A12.
  5. "Conduct Unbecoming: Sixth annual report on Don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue, don't harass.", Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), 2000-MAR-9 at: SLDN's home page is at: 
  6. "The ABC of the European Union - citizenship: Fundamental rights," at: 
  7. "Judgements in the Cases of Lustig-Prean and Beckett v. The United Kingdom and Smith and Grady v. The United Kingdom, European Court of Human Rights," (1999) See:
  8. "New Data Reveals Military Losing Mission Critical Specialists Under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'," Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, 2005-JUN-13, at:
  9. Ben Armbruster, "Decorated fighter pilot fought DADT discharge hoping Obama would end the policy," ThinkProgress, 2009-MAY-20, at:

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Copyright 2000 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-MAR-16
Latest update: 2010-JAN-31
Author: B.A. Robinson

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