You could be discharged simply for being gay. Some superiors & fellow soldiers looked the other way. Some, identified as gay, were sent into combat, then discharged. "Stop-Loss" games were often played. Linguists, pilots, & other highly trained specialists critical to national security were kicked out. Pentagon research had proven all this was unnecessary.
UNDER DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL
You could still be discharged simply for being gay. Some superiors & fellow soldiers looked the other way. Some, identified as gay, were sent into combat, THEN discharged. "Stop-Loss" games were often played. Linguists, pilots, & other highly trained specialists critical to national security were kicked out. Pentagon research proving all this unnecessary remained undisputed.
Before the Ban on Simply Being Gay
While it alone doesn't prove he was gay, in 1778, Lt. Frederick Enslin was drummed out of the Continental Army for “attempted sodomy” by order of Gen. Washington “with Abhorrence & Detestation of such Infamous Crimes.” "He was first drum'd by all the drums and fifes from right to left of the parade, thence to the left wing of the army; from that to the centre, & lastly transported over the [river] with orders never to be seen in Camp in the future. The coat of the delinquent was turned wrong side out.” In "Male-Male Intimacy in Early America," William Benemann reported that in one list of 3,315 Revolutionary War courts martial, only two involved the word "sodomy," one being Enslin's case. But the report includes a number of other suggestive cases using words such as "great habits of indecency" in the barracks.
In 1908, 19-yr. old Homer Baker, a messenger on the USS New Jersey, one of the ships in Teddy Roosevelt's Great White Fleet, was found guilty of "sodomy" and sentenced to six years in San Quentin. He was released after four years, and the shipmate convicted with him, Thomas Keene, 24, served six years and five months of his ten-year sentence. [Thanks to Bill Lipsky & the SF GLBT Historical Society]
In 1919, the methods used in a gay witch-hunt, including entrapment and involving both sailors and civilians at the Naval Training Station in Newport, Rhode Island, resulted in an investigation by a subcommittee of the United States Senate Committee on Naval Affairs which denounced Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels and Assistant Secretary of the Navy–and future President of the United States—Franklin D. Roosevelt for their involvement. Thirteen sailors were sent to prison after being court martialed for "sodomy" and "scandalous conduct."
The Explicit Ban on Gays as a Class [Versus Just "Sodomy"] Goes Back to Policies Developed During World War II.
In 1947, Newsweek magazine reported on what may have been the first revelation to the public of how many gays the Army had discharged during WWII. [It would be more than 20 years before each of the branches would begin to make available their annual discharge figures.] Applying even the lowest estimates of the percentage of gays in the population, that only a few thousand were discharged out of over 11 million G.I.s is proof of a huge amount of "looking the other way." Click on the image to read the article which also reveals the virulent derisive homophobia with which mainstream media spoke to their readers about gays. But even while ignorantly slinging words like "inverts," "abnormality," "opposite of a normal man," and "nervous, unstable, and often hysterical temperaments," they acknowledged that gay troops "topped the average soldier in intelligence, education, and rating," and typically "performed admirably."
In approximately 1967, San Francisco's gay Society for Individual Rights [SIR] published a pamphlet describing the treatment of gays in the military at the time, describing at length how a typical investigation went, and spelling out ways to best defend yourself legally within the much narrower limits of the military "justice system." At the time, the military divided gays into Class I, II, and III. Click on the image above to read this historic document circulated nearly three decades before anyone conceived of something called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue, Don't Harass."
During WWII, so-called "queer stockades" were created on some bases to segregate troops identified as gay. Those outside exposed them to public ridicule.
During the same period, some service members suspected of being gay were sent to special psychiatric wards. One was on the then-Naval Base on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay.
DESPITE THE STATISTICALLY LOW NUMBERS discharged during WWII, in Coming Out Under Fire, gay historian Allan Bérubé estimated that, "by the late 1980s the total number of men and women discharged as homosexuals or lesbians since 1941 approached 100,000"—before anyone had ever thought of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. In 1966, the Navy ALONE discharged 1,708 gays—some 500 more than ALL the branches did during the worst year of DADT. Nearly as many were discharged during the eight years Ronald Reagan was President as in the 17 years DADT was law. Still, the military has temporarily reduced the number of discharges to allow for more to be available for combat in every conflict from WWII through today. Bérubé discovered that an adjutant general during WWII ordered the commanding general of the West Coast Air Corps Training Center in California to review the cases of some men already convicted of sodomy "to determine their respective availability for military service [with] the view of conserving all available manpower for service in the Army." He canceled the men's dishonorable discharges and made them eligible for reassignment AFTER completing their prison sentences, In 1945, facing manpower shortages during the final European offensive in Europe, Secretary of War Harry Stimson ordered a review of all gay discharges and ordered commanders to "salvage" homosexual soldiers for service whenever necessary. The number of men discharged for being gay during WWII was only in the low thousands out of 16 MILLION men who served—a lot of "looking the other way" no matter how low one thinks the incidence of homosexuality is in the population. The Army Commander's Handbook, updated in 1999 and still in use at the time of repeal, read: "if discharge [for homosexuality] is not requested prior to the unit's receipt of alert notification, discharge isn't authorized. Member will enter active duty with the unit." In other words, if you came back alive, THEN they’d discharge you. As the years passed, and particularly after Leonard’s challenge, fewer and fewer discharges were labeled “Dishonorable” or “Less Than Honorable” which severely impacted one’s civilian job opportunities and meant no or fewer veteran benefits. By the time the ban was converted to DADT, on average 95% of those discharged got some kind of "honorable" characterization.
Though this chart does not reflect discharges in the Reserves and Coast Guard, it demonstrates the Pentagon's decades-long practice of "Stop Loss"óin this case, reducing discharges after going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sadly, President Obama needlessly allowed some 700 more to be discharged when he could have used his Executive authority to freeze such discharges in the name of national security while repeal legislation progressed in Congress.
Long before its codification into DADT, trying to end the ban was among the earliest goals of the American gay rights movement, and many of the movement's leaders were veterans themselves.
It was the focus of the very first gay protest demonstration in the United States as shown in the pictures at left courtesy of one of its organizers, gay rights pioneer Randy Wicker. It was held at New York City's Whitehall Induction Center in September of 1964—five years before Stonewall.
While abuses in addition to discharge such as confinement to a military mental ward were virtually never practiced under"Don't Ask, Don't Tell," it was really little more than old wine in new bottles with a catchy label. Mainstream media, even some gay media, mindlessly and inexcusably echoed Pentagon propaganda when they said things like, "Under DADT, gays can serve in the military they just have to be in the closet when they're on duty." This charade dated back to the 1993 Summer of Shame.
"Don't tell" diabolically meant you couldn't tell ANYONE at ANYTIME. Not even your mother. If someone ELSE told your commanding officer that you were gay, the burden was on YOU to "prove" you weren't or that, while you were gay, you had never engaged in "homosexual acts" and NEVER would.
The supposed prohibitions on the military—"don't ask, don't pursue, don't harass"—were violated at will and with impunity.
Bottom line? The same truth that went all the way back to the barracks and battlefields of World War II: if your superiors liked you and/or your superiors needed you, doing nothing once they suspected or knew was likely to be the order of the day. If they didn't, Johnny [and Jill] went marching home. [A highly disproportionate number of lesbians were discharged over gay men.]
What had changed significantly since 1993 when the policy became a combination of policies and law lumped under DADT was that every survey showed that a majority of voters now supported allowing gays to serve openly in the military. And the studies that demonstrated that gays create no problems as a class, including some once secret conducted by the Pentagon itself and going back over half-a-century, piled higher and higher.
When being honest, opponents of lifting the ban admitted that it was not about gays themselves but about those who might be uncomfortable around them. In short, it was a law that shielded and protected bigotry—at great cost not just to outstanding gay servicemembers but also to the nation's treasury and security.
1965 Pentagon protest led by Frank Kameny & Jack Nichols.
In 1966, lesbian rights pioneer Del Martin suggested a protest in several cities on Armed Forces Day. She and the Rev. Cecil Williams led the one in San Francisco, Harry Hay and Don Slater led a 13-car caravan protest in Los Angeles, and Frank Kameny led a 4-mile march from the White House to the Pentagon then flew to New York City to lead a protest there.
At any one time, estimates are that there are AT LEAST around 66,000 gays serving in in the military. The number of discharges each year fluctuated depending on the need for troops; going down whenever more were needed, a policy known as "stop loss" which the Pentagon disingenuously denied . The peak under DADT was 2001 when at least 1273 were kicked out. [The most recent previous worst numbers were during the Reagan Administration when then were nearly as many discharged—at least 13,236—as in the entire 17 years of DADT—and his DoD often fought for the lowest, disqualifying characterizations for those needing VA medical benefits the most—service members with AIDS.] What rarely got considered was that, under DADT another estimated 4000 were lost each year because they chose not to reenlist. Thus, taxpayers paid twice: once to train servicemembers who happened to be gay, again to train their replacements after they were forced out. The military, while excellent at its primary mission, is notorious for its fiscal mismanagement. A study showed that the costs of the first ten ears of DADT came to $364 MILLION, while over and over already trained servicemembers from Arabic translators to Top Gun pilots said, "I'd reenlist in a heartbeat if I could serve openly."
While homophobic half-wits had visions of gay soldiers dyeing their camos pink, replacing their American flag patches with rainbow flags, and Pride floats and orgies on base parade grounds dancing in their heads, studies of countries and domestic police and fire departments where gays are allowed to serve demonstrated not only that such things don't happen but also that relatively few come out to their units at all.
And, though not everyone graduated with honors from "the Will & Grace generation," it was clear from a growing number of reports that, among the ranks, more and more nongays just didn't care. Thus, most responses to those who have outed themselves since repeal was implemented in September 2011 have been positive. Because what most do care about is whether or not the person contributes to their shared mission. As far back as 1947, an Army study admitted that "inverts" surpassed the average soldier in intelligence, education, and performance rating. Little wonder that of the some 16 million men that served during WWII the number who were discharged for being gay was in the low thousands. Regardless of how conservative one's estimates are of the number of gays, that's a lot of "looking the other way."
But discharges did happen, destroying lives, driving some to suicide. And, despite repeal, antigay discrimination IN the military continues. Why? Because the Pentagon is still too much like Jurassic Park where homophobic dinosaurs are still alive.
Recent DADT casualties Joseph Rocha, Anthony Woods, & Dan Choi.
1993 March on Washington - in center: SGT Perry Watkins & SGT Tom Swann
1993 Campaign for Military Service ad. "The Pentagon Wants to Lock Us Out. You Hold the Key."
David Mixner being arrested in front of the White House on July 30, 1993, protesting the announcement of DADT.
Proving one doesn't have to be gay to get the injustice and inanity of banning gays from military service, former Pennsylvania Cong. Patrick Murphy, then the only Iraq veteran in Congress, became the chief sponsor of the House bill to repeal DADT after former lead Cong. Ellen Tauscher resigned to take a position in the State Department. In the second video, he challenges the invincible ignorance of Elaine Donnelly, one of the most vicious and vociferous opponents of integrating the military, during a 2008 House subcommittee hearing on DADT. She, in fact, believed that DADT was TOO LIBERAL.
The unintended consequence of gay advocacy groups focusing solely on DADT was diminishing the power of numbers. The ban on gays in the military upon repeal was over 65 years old, and the total number discharged was certainly close to 125,000. Nonetheless, the 2007 display organized by Jarrod Chlapowski and Alex Nicholson of Servicemembers United on the nation's Capital Mall of one flag for each of the 12,000 gays discharged under DADT alone by then was a brilliant visual message.