Gays in the U.S. Military
History of US military policies,
towards gays from 1776 to 2009
History of US military policies:
||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
||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
||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."
||1957: Crittenden Report: Navy Captain S.H. Crittenden, Jr. conducted a
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.
||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
||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.
||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:
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."
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.
||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:|
||968 incidences of harassment of gays and lesbians in the armed
forces reported to them by individual servicemen and women 1999.
||The 1999 events ranged in severity from taunts and physical assaults to
the murder of Pfc. Barry Winchell at Ft. Campbell, KY.
||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.
||Incidents remained fairly constant during 1999, with a slight
increase noted after the murder.
||They reported that: "Witch hunts, physical abuse by
investigators, and criminal prosecutions of lesbian, gay and bisexual
service members have all subsided."
||Discharges for homosexuality dropped 10 percent from 1998, after several
years of steady increases.
||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.
||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.
||The U.S. Air Force continues to lead all
services in gay discharges.
||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
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:
excellent! That is really big news. That is the first time they have ever given
a centimeter on that...it'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."
||2007-Fall: Obama commits to ending DADT: Barack Obama, while on the campaign trail in 2007 addressed the
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."
||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
||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
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"Don't ask, don't tell," Wikipedia as at: 2009-JUN-09, at:
Chuck Stewart, "Homosexuality and the Law," Page 81 & 82.
- K. Dyer, "Gays in Uniform: The Pentagon Secret Report," Alyson Press,
President W.J. Clinton, "Text of Remarks Announcing the New Policy,"
Washington Post, 1993-JUL-20, Page A12.
"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: http://www.sldn.org/
"The ABC of the European Union - citizenship: Fundamental rights,"
"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)
"New Data Reveals Military Losing Mission Critical Specialists Under
'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'," Servicemembers Legal Defense Network,
- Ben Armbruster, "Decorated fighter pilot fought DADT discharge hoping Obama
would end the policy," ThinkProgress, 2009-MAY-20, at:
Copyright © 2000 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2000-MAR-16
Latest update: 2010-JAN-31
Author: B.A. Robinson