Yesterday's struggle, today's heritage

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Amanda Stern
  • Pride Month Committee
Historically, policies of the U.S. military have been at the heart of America's most divisive social issues. In some cases, the military has paved the way for the rest of society. Decades before the U.S. public education system, the military was fully racially integrated.

Regarding minorities and women serving, the military has generally been forward-thinking - often surpassing industry in allowing more equitable inclusion of such groups. While the debate over the inclusion of women and minorities in the military always revolved around effectiveness and physical aptitude to serve, such was not the topic of debate over the presence of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered military members.

In January 1981 the Department of Defense issued Directive 1332.14, stating that "homosexuality is incompatible with military service" and that any military member who "engaged in, has attempted to engage in, or has solicited another to engage in a homosexual act" would face compulsory discharge. Yet, according to the research results of the 1993 RAND Corporation Study, the 1957 Naval Crittenden Report and the 1989 Perserec Report, the "incompatibility with military service" argument was unfounded.

History supports that such incongruence never existed and homosexual presence would not undermine unit cohesion or mission readiness: leaders such as Alexander the Great, Phillip of Macedon and even the Spartan King Leonidas are all recorded as having been homosexual. Within American military ranks, Baron Frederick von Steuben's homosexuality was never at issue during his integral leadership in training the Continental Army.

During his 1992 presidential campaign, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton promised that, if elected, he would allow military service by all who qualify - regardless of sexual orientation. However, newly elected President Clinton failed to overcome strong opposition in allowing gays to serve openly in the military. In an attempt at compromise, in November 1993 President Clinton signed into law the contentious policy known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" or DADT. The policy defined homosexuality as "an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability."

As a result of that policy, the military discharged more than 13,000 members. Fearing loss of career, more than 65,000 service members were subsequently forced to hide an integral part of their identity. For years, they compromised their personal integrity to avoid the potential end of their military careers.

DADT became a social focal point for the American public. In protest, many universities - Yale and Harvard included - booted ROTC detachments from their property. Organizations such as OUTSERVE-SLDN (Service members' Legal Defense Network) defended those directly affected by DADT. After many long years, the efforts of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered individuals, along with the heterosexual allies that supported them, were partially realized through President Obama's 2010 repeal of the policy. In June 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, another discriminatory policy that had restricted federal employees in same sex marriages-- including military-- from receiving federal benefits.

The Pentagon held its first pride month observance in June 2012, with the number of observances across DoD increasing every year. These celebrations underscore a military striving to support each and every servicemember. As stated by the commander in chief regarding the repeal of DADT, "[it is] certain that we can effect this transition in a way that only strengthens our military readiness, that people will look back on this moment and wonder why it was ever a source of controversy."