Photo: President Barack Obama shakes hands with Frank Kameny after signing the repeal of the law, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” on December 22, 2010.
Event: End of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” Military Policy
Overview: The “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy of the U.S. military began in 1983. That policy was deemed unconstitutional. Congress passed the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in 2010, which then allowed gay and lesbian people to serve openly in the military.
Action: Ask people who have been in the military about the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy and how it impacts them.
Questions: What was the reason in history that gay and lesbian people could not serve in the military? Why was the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (#DADT) important?
Historically, people who would have been termed gay or lesbian or transgender by today’s standards have served in the military since ancient times. Military life from ancient to modern times has traditionally been organized by gender. In ancient Greece and Sparta, it was the males who formed the military and in the U.S. during World War 2, men fought together in the military while women worked together in the factories manufacturing war related equipment. In addition, in most Native American tribes, all genders fought together to defend their land.
The U.S. military never officially excluded or discharged homosexuals from their ranks until the 1900s. During the beginning of the nation, following the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), the army and navy deemed that sodomy (defined as anal or oral sex between men) was grounds for imprisonment, similar to military regulations of the British. In addition, the commanders or leaders of the military determined what behavior was unacceptable in their individual units.
During World War II, a number of military service men and women were dismissed for being homosexual or for having “homosexual proclivities.” They were either dishonorably discharged or were issued what were called “blue discharges”–a sort of middle ground between honorable and dishonorable, since homosexuality was considered a psychiatric condition. The discharges were often marked “HS” or some other code for homosexual, which would effectively disqualify the veteran from receiving any GI rights or benefits, and it barred many discharged soldiers from getting civilian jobs. In addition, the Nazi Party in Germany – in addition to the systematic extermination of Jewish people – also persecuted and exterminated homosexuals. In concentration camps, homosexuals were marked with a pink triangle badge on their clothing.
Following the war, in 1949, the U.S. Department of Defense distributed a memo unifying the military services’ regulations relating to homosexuality. The memo stated: “Homosexual personnel, irrespective of sex, should not be permitted to serve in any branch of the Armed Services in any capacity, and prompt separation of known homosexuals from the Armed Forces is mandatory.” There was a continuing belief in the military that homosexexuality was viewed as a “moral defect” and should not be enlisted in the military. This belief and policies continued until the 1990s.
In 1993, Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed legislation known as “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (#DADT). The policy stated that closeted gay and lesbian people should not be discriminated against in the military and that gay and lesbian service people should not reveal their sexual orientation. This policy was found to not be effective because gays, lesbians and transgender individuals continued to be harassed in the military and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals deemed the policy to be unconstitutional. Because of social, political and religious beliefs, this policy stayed in place until 2010.
In December 2010, the U.S. Congress passed the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” which then allowed gays and lesbian Americans to serve openly in the military. President Barack Obama signed the law into place December 22, 2010. In the audience was Frank Kameny, who had been released from government service in 1957, because he was gay, due to Executive Order 10450.
- Video (Dec. 22, 2010): Repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”. (3 minutes):
- Article (Nov. 30, 2010): Public Opinion About “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”.
- Article (Sept. 20, 2012): Slate Magazine – Result of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
- Article (Dec. 2017): Huffington Post Hidden History Helped End Don’t Ask Don’t Tell