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Dont Ask, Dont Tell:

A History of Anti-Queer Discrimination

in the United States Military
Kasey Casort
Recent US History
Mr. Genson, period 6
April 24, 2016

On September 20, 2011, the United States Policy titled, Dont Ask, Dont Tell,
(DADT) was repealed by President Obama. In an interview with TIME Magazines Nate
Rawlings, active-duty Air Force officer Josh Seefried admitted that, at first, Dont ask,
dont tell...almost [sounded] reasonable, but once life under DADT began, there was
not a day that [DADT] didnt consume [him] (Rawling). The limitations placed on queer
servicemen and women destroyed the trust and familial aspects of military bonding, and
forced them to lie to everyone around them. Under DADT, members of the military could
still be outed and discharged, although purposeful third-party malicious outings were
not grounds for discharge, as Seefried experienced after reporting an instructor who
changed his scores at the military academy after finding out that Seefried was gay
(Rawlings). Seefried was not discharged after being outed, but he was removed from
his job. Although the purpose of Dont Ask, Dont Tell was to protect all service
members, many injustices to queer Americans in the military continued, ultimately
harming members of the military until its repeal in 2011.
The United States Policy known as Dont Ask, Dont Tell, was signed into law by
the newly inaugurated President Bill Clinton in 1993. Most political analysts did not
expect Clinton to move on such a potentially explosive issue so early in his
presidency, but the decision was popular among many Americans, especially queer
activists that had supported Clinton during his campaign, encouraging Clinton to
[promise] action as he rallied voters (Editors). The policy was signed into effect on
October 1, 1993. It instructed that military personnel dont ask, dont tell, dont pursue,
and dont harass, where sexual orientation was concerned. Ideally, the laws function

was to allow queer people to serve safely in the military. However, it functioned as a
statutory ban and continued to ostracize queer people in the military (Editors).
Efforts to keep members of the queer community out of military service in the
United States have been instigated since the Revolutionary War, where sodomy was
forbidden, and often punished harshly, (Chrislove). Homosexuality was first defined
by medical professionals after World War I, causing sexuality to become a public topic
of discussion in the United States for the first time. The medical definition had negative
connotations, like sexual [inversion], and associating sexuality with mental illness,
which led the military to make efforts to exclude gays and lesbians from service
(Chrislove). The United States frantic entry into World War II after the attack on Pearl
Harbor led to a desperate need for military personnel, and discrimination was stanched
in the search for anyone who could fight. Generally, queer military personnel were
ignored as long as they were not caught in outright homosexual activity, but if they were
caught they were discharged. However, after World War II the effort to keep all queer
people out of the military was reenergized, and supposed homosexuals were
dishonorably charged en masse. In one instance, 500 women from a WAC unit in Tokyo
were discharged at the same time because of their assumed homosexuality (Chrislove).
Since World War II, homosexual servicemen and women have been specifically
banned from the military. Dont Ask, Dont Tell, was supposed to be a solution to this
discrimination, but even though it was a step towards equality it didnt effectively end the
unfair treatment of queer people in the military. Under DADT, servicemen were denied
their freedom of expression, a Constitutional right. One temporarily medically retired
serviceman wrote in an article for the New York Times that hiding his sexuality in the

military took such a toll on him mentally that he developed multiple mental illnesses. He
felt that he could not meet the Army values of honor or integrity if [he] pretended to be
heterosexual, but he could not be out to any of his fellow servicemen if he wanted to
continue serving his country (Farrell). This division caused him to be medically retired
after he was diagnosed with both depression and anxiety. Stories like this demonstrate
the direct impacts Dont Ask, Dont Tell, had on people in the military- from emotional
trauma to development of mental illness to dishonorable discharge, the effects of this
policy were much worse than most Americans could see from home.
The certification required by the Repeal
Act for ending Dont Ask, Dont Tell was sent
to Congress on July 22, 2011 by President
Obama, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta,
and Admiral Mike Mullen. The United States
Policy, Dont Ask, Dont Tell, was repealed
on September 20, 2011. It was only ended
after more than 625,000 emails and 50,000 handwritten letters were sent to Congress
and delivered to Capitol Hill (Rolfe). According to the Human Rights Campaign, more
than 20,000 veterans spoke in favor of repeal (Rolfe). President Obama released a
statement after the repeal saying that It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and
integrity are not more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender,
religion or creed. (Editors). The repeal of Dont Ask, Dont Tell helped to push the
United States Military towards equality, and ended an era of discrimination that violated
soldiers freedom of expression.

Works Cited
Cannistra, Mary Kate, Kat Downs, and Cristina Rivero. "Timeline: A History of
'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'" Washington Post. Washington Post, 30 Nov. 2010.
Web. 25 Mar. 2016. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/
politics/dont-ask-dont-tell-timeline/>. This interactive timeline of
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" gave me a helpful comparison of how things moved
from the implementation of the policy to its repeal in 2011. It was neat to
look at something formatted a little differently than the articles I've
been reading.
Chrislove. "Remembering LGBT History: How World War II Changed Gay and Lesbian
Life in America." Editorial. Daily Kos. Kos Media, LLC, 25 May 2012. Web. 10 Mar.
2016.<http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/5/25/1094817/-Remembering-LGBTHistory-How-World-War-II-Changed-Gay-and-Lesbian-Life-in-America>. This
article is an in-depth look at the lives of many queer people during WWII, which
was helpful because I needed to know when gays were first banned from serving
in the military and how these bans progressed until the passage of DADT and its
subsequent repeal.
Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, The. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT)." Encyclopaedia
Britannica. By The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Web. 8 Mar. 2016.<http://www.britannica.com/event/Dont-Ask-Dont-Tell>. This
source is an encyclopedia entry from a reputable source. It gives an overview of
the actions taken in government to create, enforce, and repeal "Don't Ask, Don't
Tell," and gave me a useful overview of the policy from its beginning to end.
Farrell, Stephen. "Gay Service Members Discuss Dont Ask, Dont Tell." New York
Times 20 Sept. 2011, At War: Notes From the Front Lines: n. pag. Print. This article
is a collection of stories from servicemen who experienced the negative effects of
DADT. The article was published right before the repeal of DADT, and is an eyeopening read into the reasons some queer people stayed in the military despite the
hardships they endured, and also how their families coped with their closeted
Luckovich, Mike. "How The Senate Should Vote." Cartoon. Simple Tricks and
Nonsense. Ed. Jason Bennion. Jason Bennion, 17 Dec. 2010. Web. 2 Apr. 2016.
<http://www.jasonbennion.com/images/political-cartoon_DADT-repeal.jpg>. This
political cartoon shows a casket covered by an American flag with checkboxes
beneath it saying "Gay," "Straight," and "American," with the latter checked. I
thought this was a profound cartoon because it dealt with the commitment
members of the US Military make to their country, and the preposterous limitations
placed on people willing to make that sacrifice simply due to their sexuality.

Rawlings, Nate. "Firsthand Experience of Dont Ask, Dont Tell." Editorial. TIME. Time,
Inc., 20 Sept. 2011. Web. 23 Mar. 2016. <http://nation.time.com/2011/09/20/thefirsthand-experience-of-dont-ask-dont-tell/>This article was published on the day of
the repeal of DADT, and was fascinating because it was the time the officer
interviewed had been able to use his full name without fear of being fired. Josh
Seefried, an active-duty Air Force officer, talked about how DADT impacted his
experience in the military.
Rolfe, Judy. "The Repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'" Human Rights Campaign. Human
Rights Campaign, n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2016. <http://www.hrc.org/resources/therepeal-of-dont-ask-dont-tell>. This article describes the efforts made to repeal
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and offers statistics about the number of letters and emails
sent in protest that I will definitely cite in my essay to show the massive backlash
that DADT initiated. Although this article isn't especially detailed, it is interesting
and an informative overview of the process for repeal.