LGBT policy in the United States military, concerning the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) servicemembers in the U.S. military, has changed over the course of the 20th century and remains a current debate in Congress and public forums.


Blue discharges of the early 20th centuryEdit

Main article: Blue discharge

A blue discharge or "blue ticket" was a form of administrative military discharge formerly issued by the United States beginning in 1916. It was neither honorable nor dishonorable. The blue ticket became the discharge of choice for commanders seeking to remove homosexual service members from the ranks and they were also issued disproportionately to African Americans.

Blue discharges were discontinued in May 1947, with discharges that would formerly have been blue now falling under one of two new headings, "general" and "undesirable".[1] A general discharge was considered to be under honorable conditions – which is distinct from an "honorable discharge" – and an undesirable discharge was under conditions other than honorable – which, again, is distinct from a "dishonorable discharge".[2] At the same time, however, the Army changed its regulations to ensure that homosexuals would not qualify for general discharges.[3] Under this system, a servicemember found to be homosexual but who has not committed any homosexual acts while in service would receive an undesirable discharge. Those who were found guilty of engaging in homosexual conduct were dishonorably discharged.[4]

Late 20th centuryEdit

The success of the armed forces in pre-screening self-identified gay and bisexual people from the 1940s through 1981 remains in dispute; during the Vietnam War, some men pretended to be gay in order to avoid the draft. However, a significant number of gay and bisexual men and women did manage to avoid the pre-screening process and serve in the military, some with special distinction. For example, in the 1950s and 1960s, the Navy medical doctor Tom Dooley received national fame for his anti-Communist and humanitarian efforts in Vietnam. His homosexuality was something of an open secret in the Navy, but eventually he was forced to resign; the Navy subsequently conducted the first official study on sexual orientation and the Navy regulations and rules. In 1957, the Crittenden Report found that gay-identified people were no more likely to be a security risk than heterosexual-identified people, and found there was no rational basis for excluding gay people from the Navy, although it stopped short of recommending a change in the regulations because of social mores.

By the 1970s, a gay servicemember who had not committed any homosexual acts while in service would tend to receive a general discharge, while those found to have engaged in homosexual conduct would tend to receive undesirable discharges.[5] However, the reality remained that gay servicemembers received a disproportionate percentage of undesirable discharges issued.[6]

During the 1970s, several high-profile court challenges to the military's regulations on homosexuality occurred, with little success, and when such successes did occur it was when the plaintiff had been open about his homosexuality from the beginning or due to the existence of the "queen for a day" rule. In 1981, the Department of Defense issued a new regulation on homosexuality that was designed to ensure withstanding a court challenge by developing uniform and clearly defined regulations and justifications that made homosexual status, whether self-applied or by the military, and conduct grounds for discharge (DOD Directive 1332.14 (Enlisted Administrative Separations), January, 1981):

Homosexuality is incompatible with military service. The presence in the military environment of persons who engage in homosexual conduct or who, by their statements, demonstrate a propensity to engage in homosexual conduct, seriously impairs the accomplishment of the military mission. The presence of such members adversely affects the ability of the armed forces to maintain discipline, good order, and morale; to foster mutual trust and confidence among service members; to ensure the integrity of the system of rank and command; to facilitate assignment and worldwide deployment of service members who frequently must live and work in close conditions affording minimal privacy; to recruit and retain members of the armed forces; to maintain the public acceptability of military service; and to prevent breaches of security.

The directive justified the policy and removed the "queen for a day" rule that had prompted some courts to rule against the armed forces. However, the intent of the policy had also been to treat homosexuality as being akin to a disability discharge and thus ensure that anyone found engaging in homosexual activity and/or identifying as gay, would be separated with an honorable discharge. The DOD policy has since withstood most court challenges, although the United States Supreme Court has refused to weigh in on the constitutionality of the policy, preferring to allow lower courts and the United States Congress to settle the matter.

In the 1980s, many of the Democratic Party presidential candidates expressed an interest in changing the regulations concerning homosexuality in the armed forces, and, as American social mores changed, public opinion began to express more sympathy with gay people in armed forces, at least to the extent that investigations into a serviceman or -woman's sexual behaviour and/or orientation were seen as a witch-hunt. "Gays in the military" became a political issue during the 1992 Presidential campaign, when Clinton, the Democratic candidate, promised to lift the military's ban on homosexual and bisexual people.

In 1992, the United States General Accounting Office published a report entitled Defense Force Management: DOD's Policy on Homosexuality, that outlined the DOD policy on homosexuality and the reasons for it. The report also included excerpts from a previously unpublished 1988 Defense Personnel Security Research and Education Center study on homosexuality that made similar conclusions as the 1957 Crittenden Report.[7]

Don't ask, don't tellEdit

Main article: Don't ask, don't tell

Don't ask, don't tell (DADT) is the common term for the policy restricting the United States military from efforts to discover or reveal closeted gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members or applicants, while barring those that are openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual from military service. LGBT people are allowed to serve but must do so without coming out or speaking about any homosexual relationships, including marriages or other familial attributes, while serving in the United States military. The policy was enacted in 1993 under the presidency of Bill Clinton.

Military Readiness Enhancement ActEdit

The Military Readiness Enhancement Act is a bill introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives in the 109th and 110th Congress by Marty Meehan and the 111th Congress by Ellen Tauscher. The purpose of the bill is to amend title 10, United States Code, to enhance the readiness of the Armed Forces by replacing DADT with a policy of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.


  • Bérubé, Allan (1990). Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two. New York, The Penguin Group.
  • Jones, Major Bradley K. (January 1973). "The Gravity of Administrative Discharges: A Legal and Empirical Evaluation" The Military Law Review 59:1–26.
  • Shilts, Randy (1993). Conduct Unbecoming: Gays & Lesbians in the U.S. Military Vietnam to the Persian Gulf. New York, St. Martin's Press. ISBN 031209261X


  1. Bérubé, p. 242
  2. Jones, p. 2
  3. Bérubé, p. 243
  4. "Homosexuals in Uniform", Newsweek, 1947-06-09. Retrieved on 2009-01- 04. 
  5. Jones, p. 3
  6. Shilts, p. 163
  7. United States General Accounting Office (June 1992). Defense Force Management: DOD's Policy on Homosexuality. GAO/NSIAD-92-98. Retrieved on 2009-10-28. 

See alsoEdit

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LGBT and Queer studies
Rainbow flag flapping in the wind

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