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August 2000

Homophobia in the U.S. Military
"Donít Ask; Donít Tell" Ė Six Years Later
by Harold Jordan
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Private First Class Barry Winchell

In considering the failures of the policy, it is important to recall the context in which it was adopted.

First, the adoption of the policy was accompanied by a Congressional finding that "the presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability."

The Administration helped to establish a climate in which overtly anti-gay forces were strengthened. President Clinton made statements to the effect that concerns about protecting the privacy of straight service members had merit, and therefore the segregation of openly lesbian and gay service members might be warranted. Clinton Administration officials also put forth the "reasonable person" standard, subsequently adopted in the policy. The "reasonable person" standard has been especially problematic.

More Outside Scrutiny Needed

The military has never committed itself to creating an atmosphere free of homophobia. Homophobia is deeply ingrained in the military culture. Expressions of aggressive male heterosexuality are seen as motivating tools to get men to be aggressive warriors. They are also used as a way of controlling women in the ranks.

Open expressions of homophobic behavior are a consequence of a flawed policy, a failure to enforce its anti-harassment and anti-pursuit provisions, and an anti-gay culture inside the military. The partial lifting of the "ban" on joining the military has not been accompanied by a focus on the repressive conditions inside the military. If anything good has come of the revelations about homophobia at Fort Campbell it is that the inner workings of the military will be more closely scrutinized by the civilian public.


Doug Ireland, "Search and Destroy," The Nation (July 10, 2000).

"Conduct Unbecoming: Donít Ask Donít Tell?" Ė ABC Nightline, 6/23/00. This is a highly informative report on the increase in homophobia inside the military in the year following a murder of a gay soldier a Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The transcript and video of the show are on the web.

Getting Help

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) is a national legal aid and watchdog organization that assists service members at risk under the militaryís anti-gay policies and practices. It produces a survival guide for lesbian and gay service members, available in print and on the web.
phone: 202/328-3244
e-mail: sldn@sldn.org

The National Lawyers Guildís Military Law Task Force publishes two items of special interest: "Military Policy on Homosexuality" and "Challenging Sexual Harassment in the Military." Military Law Task Force, National Lawyers Guild, 1168 Union, Suite 200, San Diego, CA 92101, phone: 619/233-1701.

* The full title is "Donít Ask; Donít Tell; Donít Pursue; Donít Harass." Only recently did the Pentagon add "Donít Harass" to the name of the policy. In this article we use "Donít Ask; Donít Tell" to refer to the broader policy.

About the Author

Harold Jordan coordinates the American Friends Service Committeeís National Youth and Militarism Program. You can reach him at youthmil@afsc.org.

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