Since Saturday’s Senate vote repealing the U.S. military’s seventeen-year-old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy regarding gay servicemembers and paved the way for open service, a number of historians with expertise on the subject have offered their perspective. I thought their reactions were worth compiling. (Here are some thoughts of my own on DADT from earlier this year.)
George Chauncey, “Last Ban Standing,” The New York Times
…the exclusion of gays and lesbians from the military has been a crucial issue for the gay movement for 65 years — in part because, during the postwar decades, it served as a model for anti-homosexual discrimination throughout the government and private sector.
…I consider this to be an important step — not necessarily towards equality, but towards a basis by which we might imagine an inclusive human rights agenda in the United States and a recognition of the ways in which certain groups are confined by the law and other groups are freed by it. Repealing DADT is an imperfect way of getting there, as is marriage equality, but they are both necessary moves even if you, personally, find marriage and the military noxious and retrograde.
Tanya Roth, “The Beginning of a Long Road”
Yes, looking to the military’s racial integration successes (and shortcomings) is important for ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and moving forward. But I think it’s a big mistake to focus on racial integration and exclude sexual integration. In fact, I’d argue that it’s paramount for the armed forces to take a good, long, serious look at its history ofsexual integration efforts, success, and – above all – limitations.
And finally, depicted above Brenda Marston of Cornell’s Human Sexuality Collection shares, via Facebook, “a WWII envelope in the papers of Richard Schlegel, whom the U.S. army dismissed in 1961 for rumored homosexual activity,” mailed December 27, 1944.
While we’re on the topic, the late Allan Bérubé’s landmark 1990 study Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II is back in print from UNC Press, including an e-reader edition. Margot Canaday’s 2003 article “Building a Straight State: Sexuality and Social Citizenship under the 1944 G.I. Bill” is also essential reading.