LGBTQ+ in the Military: A Brief History, Current Policies and Safety
Today, members of the LGBTQ+ community proudly serve in the military. But, this hasn’t always been the case. In fact, the ban on allowing transgender members in the military was only recently lifted when President Joe Biden took office.
For years, our fellow LGBTQ+ service members lived in fear of being retaliated against. Major concerns included worries of not being selected for special assignments, or promotions. Today, the Department of Defense is committed to representing the nation’s diversity. We at the Veterans Caucus, also stand in solidarity and allyship with our LGBTQ+ serve member community.
The history of LGBTQ+ in the military
Imagine the year 1982. It was a time best remembered for uniting diverse populations through new wave, pop, country, and soul music. Yet, society as a whole, and countless members of our armed services felt marginalized and even abandoned. Sadly, 1982 was also a dark time in the military, where an anti-gay policy was enacted to ban LGBTQ+ service members from their ranks. Before 1982, LGBTQ+ service members were often harassed, court-martialed, and/or arrested. Such discriminatory acts were even worse in the 1940s and 1950s because a person’s sexual orientation could be considered a mental illness. During World War II, one’s sexual orientation was a disqualifying trait under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Article I, Section 8 - the “blue discharge” - which was neither honorable or dishonorable. Under this policy concerning sexual orientation, service members sometimes faced egregious treatment, including being confined to mental institutions and make-shift brigs. Despite the odds, numerous gay and lesbian service members found camaraderie, community, and refuge from society’s cold shoulder.
As a result of President Eisenhower’s 1953 Executive Order 10450 banning LGBTQ+ service members from federal employment, more than 5,000 employees lost jobs. Under President Bill Clinton, advocacy efforts amplified in the push to change the military’s stance on sexual orientation. On Dec. 21, 1993, Defense Directive 1304.26 known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, (DADT)” sought to prohibit military personnel from harassing or discriminating against “closeted” LGBTQ+ service members or applicants. At the same time, “openly” LGBTQ+ persons were banned from military service and discharged based on this. This directive also prohibited LGBTQ+ service members from disclosing their sexual orientation and discussing same-sex relationships and marriages. A number of challenges were filed against this policy which remained effective from Feb. 28, 1994 until Sept, 20,2011, when the policy removed “homosexual conduct” as grounds for administrative separation.
On Aug. 14, 2013, spousal and family benefits were finally extended to service members in same sex marriages - upon receipt of valid marriage licenses.
Being LGBTQ+ in the military
Today, the Department of Defense values its force, and the diverse contribution that all their heroes make stepping forward to lead.
The fight is still not over. Many LGBTQ+ service members experience disparity, and stigma. We must ensure service members do not live-in fear of backlash and feel free, living openly. Experiencing any form of discrimination can affect one’s physical, and mental health. It is important to receive support, as well as from your fellow service members.
We honor “sheroes” such as Marsha P. Johnson, and “The Mother of Pride” Brenda Howard. Marsha led a movement in New York in 1969 for six straight days that demanded safe spaces of establishment for the LGBTQ+ without fear of being arrested. A year later, Brenda started the first Gay Pride Week and the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade a year after the Stonewall Riots.
We will never forget the dedication and advocacy of San Francisco Board of Supervisors Member Harvey Milk who fought to end anti-gay discrimination. Harvey was later assassinated along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone as a result of lobbying against having former Board of Supervisor Dan White reappointed on the Board of Supervisors.
Former President Bill Clinton first recognized pride month in 1999 and 2000. President Barack Obama declared the month of June as Pride Month. The largest pride march was held in New York with 2 million participants in 2019. San Francisco, and Los Angeles lead the way as well with large turnouts - estimates at San Francisco’s Pride March are roughly 850,000 participants.
For additional support
If you or an active-duty service member feels unsafe, harassed, or isolated, you may also benefit from talking with a professional who is familiar with military culture. LGBTQ+ support groups are also located at most military installations.
Free, confidential non-medical counseling is also available through their installation’s Military and Family Life Counseling program and Military OneSource. Service members can connect with a counselor by calling 800-342-9647.
The Military Crisis Line is staffed 24/7 with trained counselors and offers a number of ways to connect. Call 800-273-8255 and Press 1 to speak with a responder. You may text 838255 or access online chat at the Military Crisis Line website.