U.S Military Discrimination Against the LGBTQ+ Community: How Has Military Discrimination Evolved Over Time and How is it Happening Today?

During Bill Clinton’s presidency, he had put the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy in place to allow the LGBTQ+ community to serve; however, the caveat was that LGBTQ+ individuals were not allowed to come out and, effectively serve in silence. In 2011 however, the Obama administration repealed the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy.

Link to my personal interest video:

the interest

I initially heard of Clinton’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy from my parents and although I didn’t hear the name of the policy, I had learned that it essentialy discriminatory against the LGBTQ+ community, even if they weren’t exclusivly banning them from the military. At first, I was confused, at the time, I didn’t know much about the LGBTQ+ community and I thought that it was weird that people would be banned from serving simply because of who they love. As I got older however, and learned more about the LGBTQ+ community, I had also learned about discrimination that the LGBTQ+ community faces. This eventually led to my topic due to both the history, buildup, and the present day policies that affect the LGBTQ+ community.   

Full Peronal Interest Essay:

What You Need to know

Although there were no official bans prior to World War II, homosexuality was considered a crime and as such, any who were gay were prohibited from military service (Rodriguez). It wasn’t until later during World War II when the military had officially “labeled homosexuality as a mental defect” that forbade them from serving in the military (Rodriguez). 

However, in 1994, Bill Clinton’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy was put into place to allow LGBTQ+ members to serve in the military as long as they didn’t come out (Cohen). Seventeen years later, the Obama administration officially repealed the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy and continued to make strides by legalizing gay marriage and planning to implement a policy that would allow transgender individuals to serve in the military (Bumiller). However, lately, the Trump administration has since made efforts to reverse the Obama administration’s policy and ban transgender individuals from military service (Berg and Syd).

the history

The history of LGBTQ+ discrimination in the U.S military can’t pin point an exact time in which the LGBTQ+ community was activly being banned from the military. However, LGBTQ+ involvement in the military was present even nearly two centuries ago during the birth of America. In the case of Baron Von Steuben, who was gay amd also a German-born ex-Prussian war captain who was a drill sergeant during Valley Forge (Britannica and Gottschalk and Lewis). Von Steuben was one of the most important influences on the United States of America, and was a critical and important figure in the American Revolution and how the military was. 

“alienated young gay men and women swept up by the war into a homosocial world of military service far away from the small town authorities that restricted explorations of alternate sexualities”

Ask and Tell: Gay Veterans, Identity, and Oral History on a Civil Rights Frontier” from Oral History Review, vol. 32, no. 2

During World War II, there were many LGBTQ+ individuals who had served in the military; however, they weren’t exactly accepted. Eventually, the military had officially “labeled homosexuality as a mental defect” that forbade them from serving in the military (Rodriguez). However, much of the World War II policy depended on the need for soldiers. For example, the policy would, however, be overlooked if the need for soldiers increased; but, if the need decreased, LGBTQ+ soldiers would be specifically subject to discharge (Rodriguez).

On February 24, 1994, when the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy had become instituted by the Clinton administration, it was explained as, “homosexuality would still be banned” and “he or she could not engage in homosexual sex at any time”, but it would “forbid the military from asking about sexual orientation and would also repeatedly prohibit witch hunts based on nothing more than rumor” (Cohen).

To read the rest of my paper that goes into more depth, click here:

the present

( Soldier Holding a Pride Flag )

On September 20, 2011, the Obama administration had officially repealed the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy which, in its seventeen years of being an active policy, banned openly out members of the LGBTQ+ community from serving in the military (Bumiller). Officially announced on July 22, 2011, the Obama administration gave a two month buffer period to expand on the benefits to be given to homosexual individuals (Bumiller). In the two month period, the Pentagon had also given training to 1.9 million of 2.2 million service people who were both active-duty and on reserve; training, for example, had included “discussions of hypothetical situations” about behavior and hangout locations (Bumiller). However, despite the large strides towards progress, The Defence of Marriage Act, also known as DOMA was a huge problem as to “traditional” marriage and how it pertained to the federal law (Bumiller and Harvard Law).

DOMA was an act that was “Congress’ way to anticipatorily retro- fitting the U.S. Code to withstand an “orchestrated legal assault” by homosexuals seeking access to the array of benefits, rights, and privileges its provisions make available to heterosexuals” (Harvard Law). DOMA essentially stripped people who were in a same-sex marriage of the same rights and protections given to those in heterosexual marriages (Harvard Law). DOMA also effectively hurt those in the military by stripping them of the familial benefits given to heterosexual members of the military (GLAAD). Eventually, in the case of United States V. Windsor, the act was declared unconstitionial in 2013 (Oyez).

In 2016, Obama, along with ex-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, announced their plan to lift the ban that had restricted transgender individuals from serving in the military; the plan would take a year to be fully implemented and by October there would be a full draft working out the details surrounding the lift of the ban (Margolin). Carter had said that “military necessity and not the social policy was what I thought ought to govern retention and admission to the military (Moran). In July 2017, Trump had announced his plans to ban transgender people from the military, effectively getting rid of the former plans of Obama and his progress towards getting rid of military discrimination in the military (Berg and Syd). Despite that, “All four military service chiefs have said that transgender service members have served openly since 2016, with “zero” negative consequences for unit cohesion” the policy has been taken into effect as of April 12, 2019 (“The Trump/Mattis Transgender Policy – What Are the Facts?”).

To read the rest of my paper that goes into more depth, click here: 

( Percentage of LGBTQ+ Individuals Serving in the Military as of 2015 )

For Now

  • Normalize and erase the social stigma around being a part of the LGBTQ+ community. A reason why DADT failed was that it promoted the silence and stigma of the LGBTQ+ community. Simple actions like discouraging homophobic comments and culture normalize the LGBTQ+ community by getting rid of the feelings of otherness.
  • To fully understand the extent of LGBTQ+ discrimination in the US military, educate yourself on what had happened in the past. For example, why what happened, happened, what policies were made, and how members of the LGBTQ+ had served in the military. A Brief History of LGBT Military Policy and Improving Acceptance, Integration and Health among LGBT Service Members is a succinct, but knowledgeable article regarding the DADT policy through Trump’s transgender ban.
  • Keep yourself educated on the current situation. By simply keeping yourself educated and updated on how LGBTQ+ discrimination has either gone up or gone down in the military. Specifically, what policies are being made and who is leading in those changes.

the macro solutions

  • Completely and totally allow all members of the LGBTQ+ community to serve in the military. Although nearly accomplished in 2016 with Obama’s bill/law to allow transgender people to serve in the military, Trump had created a new policy to ban transgender people from serving in the military. As one of the most obvious solutions, simply allowing those who want to serve the ability to serve would be huge steps forward in getting rid of the discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.
  • Remove the Trump administration. Trump, in his presidency, has shown to be not at all in favor of gay rights or make changes for equity for the LGBTQ+ community. The Trump administration as a whole has been detrimental to the rights and progress of the LGBTQ+ community by reversing the progress that has been recently made. For example, by getting rid of the lifting of the ban on transgender people serving in the military, Trump had set back progress that had been made by the Obama administration.

the works cited

Please comment on what you perceive to be the best way to deal with the discrimination that continues within the military.

Share this project
  1. April 23, 2020 by Emma

    This is a great presentation! Your passion about this issue is clear in your writing and education about the history of LGBTQ+ individuals in the military. Personally, I agree with you that one of the ways to start making positive changes towards the discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community in the military is by removing Trump from office. His policies and behaviors are so disgustingly homophobic and transphobic, and I’m afraid that no progress will be made until he is no longer our president. Once he is out of office, I hope to see someone elected who is much more inclusive towards the LGBTQ+ community in general, and then I think they will be able to reinstate the policies the the Obama administration started. Until those large governmental changes can be made, we all must be inclusive to everyone in our daily lives and remember to treat everyone with kindness because we don’t know others’ stories.

  2. April 24, 2020 by Serafine

    Hi Emily! I absolutely love the topic you chose, as I think it is especially important and relevant right now. You included a lot of research and information and it is easy to see the effort and passion you have for this project. I also like how you included links to full versions of your work. Great job, keep it up!

  3. April 26, 2020 by Annushka

    Hello! This was an interesting and informative article—thanks for writing. Growing up in the 2010s, I think we often forget exactly how different things were for the LGBTQ+ community in fairly recent history. For instance, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell occurred a mere twenty years ago under the leadership of Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party, which we associate with socially liberal views—despite this, the act was clearly discriminatory in nature. Arguably, policies like DADT were just as dangerous as explicit bans on transgender individuals in the modern day. The camouflaged prejudice allowed Clinton’s administration to circumvent criticism and give the appearance of progress while subtly enabling stigmatisation and shame. On that note, I wonder about the degree to which the unique stigmas that LGBTQ+ individuals face within the military are linked with the overarching military culture of silence. In some ways, the lack of accountability and social progress within the military specifically probably ties into the role that the military plays in American culture and its infatuation with rigid gender roles. In terms of solutions, normalising the discussion of gender and sexuality issues is an important step, as your article points out, and I also wonder if there are institutional solutions that would help address the wider issues in U.S. military culture. For instance, reforms to the system of military justice might propel the idea that even powerful individuals within the military should be held to the same moral standards as civilians. Thanks for the article.

  4. April 26, 2020 by Patina

    Hello Emily! You choose such an important topic, especially in the months leading up to election time. For me, policies around the LGBTQ+ community are very important factors to consider in a candidate, and I think that the example you discussed with the military is a great example of this. As you said, LGBTQ+ individuals have suffered enormous amounts of discrimination in this country, and our military is no exception. I appreciated how you took the time to look at the long history of discrimination in the military in addition to the recent changes made by the Trump administration because I think that it really demonstrates how long it has been a problem and how we’ve begun to backtrack on progress. I also really liked your inclusion of the graph showing the percentage of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in different branches of the military. It was really interesting, and I am curious to know why those numbers are what they are, as well as how they may have changed over time. I’m also really curious to learn about the percentages of other LGBTQ+ members in the military. Great Job!

  5. April 28, 2020 by Cali Jenkins

    Hi Emily! I thoroughly enjoyed your presentation and really loved the fact that you chose to present on this topic. Your project contained so much information and so much research I didn’t know what to do with myself. The fact that you care so much about this topic and put so much effort into your presentation is amazing. The topic itself is extremely frustrating to learn about as the solutions just seem so obvious. Discrimination not only in our country but especially in who is “allowed” to serve our civilians has always been prevalent and you bringing this issue to light is a huge step in the right direction. I really loved reading the information you have to offer and I will definitely keep myself educated on this topic from now on. 🙂

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