The service of homosexual individuals in the U.S. military has been hotly contested since the days of the Revolutionary War. Soldiers who engaged in same-sex relationships or sexual behavior were drummed out of the military or more severely punished (sometimes with hanging) for diminishing the morale or morality of fellow troops.
While the service of gay men and women has been under scrutiny in the United States since its inception, service of gay soldiers dates back to ancient history, where a soldier’s slave or young companion might escort him to war, therefore increasing his morale, mood and fighting spirit.
Having undergone many stages of bans, homosexuals were effectively prohibited from serving in the U.S. military. However, many American gay or bisexual individuals served their country by remaining in the closet about their sexual orientation. Although politicians, including former President Bill Clinton, promised to overturn the ban of gays in the military during the presidential election of 1992, the goal was never fully accomplished.
Starting as a compromise to allow gay soldiers to serve in the U.S. military, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was implemented in December 1993. The Clinton administration ordered the issuance of the Defense Directive 1304.26, which mandated that military applicants were not to be asked their sexual orientation during the induction process. The entire policy became the official standard that prohibited openly gay individuals to serve in the military; however, it protected closeted individuals from scrutiny if they chose to serve and hide their sexual orientation.
In 1993, the National Defense Research Institute created the Sexual Orientation and U.S. Military Personnel Policy: Options and Assessment. It stated: “Circumstances could exist under which the ban on homosexuals could be lifted with little or no adverse consequences for recruitment and retention” if the policy was implemented with care. However, the report was ignored and the prohibition of gays serving openly in the military continued.
Official provisions of the policy included:
- Prohibition of military personnel from discriminating against or harassing closeted homosexual or bisexual service members or applicants.
- Barred openly gay, lesbian or bisexual individuals from military service.
- Prohibition of people who “demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts” from serving in the armed forces of the United States because their presence “would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline and unit cohesion” that are the essence of military capability.
- Prohibition of disclosure of one’s sexual orientation or from speaking out about same-sex relationships, including marriages or other familial arrangements.
- Prohibition of superiors from initiating investigations against serve members concerning their orientation based on pure conjecture.
- Immediate discharge of anyone openly serving as a gay man or woman.
After its implementation, “Don’t Pursue, Don’t Harass” was added to the policy, as well.
During the presidential election of 2008, President Barack Obama promised to overturn and repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy to allow gays to openly serve in the U.S. military. On September 23, 2011, the policy was officially repealed.
The gay communities worldwide rejoiced and celebrated. From ancient and not-so-ancient times where homosexual companions escorted their partners to war and men secretly sought out male escorts while serving abroad, gay soldiers have finally won the right to serve without having to hide their true nature. Homosexual soldiers and male escorts have been accepted for years in other cultures, never impeding the abilities of the armies and battalions in other nations. The United States finally caught up with other enlightened countries with its recent ban of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”