The service of homosexual soldiers in the military has been a societal can of worms for as long as armies have existed. In ancient history, it was completely acceptable for men to escort one another while away at war. However, rumors of homosexual affairs at home could ruin a man, even during ancient times.
The branches of the U.S. military have habitually made the practice of “forgetting” certain guidelines and policies concerning service of homosexual individuals during wartime, when they needed to expand service numbers for war. Between World War II and the Korean War, the numbers of servicemen and women decreased as the need for soldiers declined during peacetime. However, as soon as wars began, the policies were ignored and homosexual inductees were allowed to serve their country in the U.S. armed forces.
During the Korean and Vietnam Wars, homosexuality was considered a mental defect that was a routine part of the psychological examination that was required of inductees before they were admitted for service in the U.S. armed forces. Military officers felt that homosexuality showed a propensity for mental problems and a human weakness that was not useful in the armed services. Additionally, homosexuality threatened the cohesiveness of a military unit, according to experts of the time. (Ironically, some historic battle units during the Greek and Roman empires encouraged soldiers to bring along their same-sex escorts and companions because it made the unit even more cohesive.)
Prior to the Korean War (and, after World War II), the Navy regularly discharged approximately 1,100 sailors each year because they were homosexuals. However, by the height of the Korean War in 1950, only 533 gay soldiers were discharged from service. By 1953, when the Armistice was signed, 1,353 gay naval sailors were discharged from the military.
In 1951, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (Article 125) defined “unnatural carnal copulation with another person of the same sex or opposite sex” as an offense worthy of court martial.
Before to the Vietnam War, homosexuality was often the basis for avoiding military service. However, many young men of the time learned this and attempted to dodge the draft by announcing they were gay. From 1966 and on into the Vietnam War period, draftees were required to produce a signed affidavit from their same-sex partner or male escort or a letter from a psychiatrist to prove their sexual orientation.
When the Vietnam war came along and the Tet Offensive had occurred in 1968, draft standards fell again to allow homosexual soldiers to serve in the military. One gay activist in the Los Angeles area documented that at least 12 openly gay men were classified A-1 within a 2-month period.
After the Vietnam War, draft standards remained at an all-time low. The abolishment of the draft and the country’s overall negative attitudes toward military service left possible shortages in the numbers of soldiers in the U.S. armed services. Military officials promoted the policy of decreasing the number of unnecessary discharges. In 1974, the number of homosexual discharges decreased to just 875 throughout ALL branches of the U.S. armed forces.
During these times of war, many homosexuals served in the U.S. military and served their country well. One such soldier was Sergeant Perry Watkins, who served from 1968 on as an openly gay man. He said that everyone on base knew he was a homosexual. Most all of the men he served with were aware of his performances where he entertained in drag as “Simone.” He was allowed to re-enlist three times, until finally, his discharge was being processed as a result of his known homosexuality. Watkins sued the Army, and the 9th Circuit Court found in his favor in Watkins v. U.S. Army (1989). He was awarded retroactive pay in the amount of $135,000, full retirement benefits, an honorable discharge and a promotion to the rank of sergeant first class. He said
For 16 years the Army said being homosexual wasn’t detrimental to my job. Then after the fact, they said it was. Logic is a lost art in the Army.
Ironically, soldiers who were gay were assigned a variety of tasks and jobs in the military. One gay soldier was assigned work in the portion of the infirmary where homosexual soldiers awaiting discharge were assigned. Through these gay men, the soldier learned of gay clubs and male escorts in San Francisco.