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Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Gays in the Us Military


Homosexuals in the military have always had to hide their sexual orientation to prevent discrimination, incrimination, or even discharge from service. According to a review by G. Dean Sinclair, psychiatrists once actually established that homosexuality was a disease and such individuals should not serve in the army, since they were more susceptible to coercion and thus were a threat to the country’s security (Sinclair, 2009). Today the policy is known as “Don’t ask Don’t tell” is the primary reason used to keep homosexuals out of the military and to discriminate against their accomplishments. How the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy will affect the military shall serve as the hypothesis of this paper.

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Women and homosexuals in World War 2

In Reyna and Shapiro’s writings on the trends of women and sexual orientation in the military we learn that in times of need during World War II, women were allowed to serve in the military in both nonfighting roles and as support for the main forces. Like homosexuals, women faced hesitancy on the part of the public to accept them as combat-capable soldiers at the beginning of the 20th century (Torres-Reyna & Shapiro, 2002).

History of discrimination against homosexuals

Unlike Women, however, homosexuals are still fighting for their right to serve in the United States military. According to Sinclair, during World War II the restrictions on homosexuals in the military were reduced when the army needed more soldiers during a time of intense conflict. Later on, when the need for soldiers eased, they once again increased the restrictions back to their previous levels. Given that 16 million men and women enlisted during World War 2 it is not inconceivable to believe that several homosexuals were serving at that time in the military (Sinclair, 2009).

Military Viewpoint

Given that homosexuals have always served in the military in one form or another, it is important to first consider why the military would institute such a policy in the first place. Aaron Belkin in his article on whether or not this policy undermines the reputation of the military sums up their viewpoint of homosexuals using the words of the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Colonel Ronal Ray who says that the confidence and trust of the public in the military would erode if their ban on homosexuality was overturned. Belkin also quotes Major Melissa Wells-Petry, who argues that the integration of homosexuals in the military “would conflict with public reality” causing disastrous consequences for the American people (Belkin, 2008).

In the same study, Belkin also notes that the military refuses to even consider the accommodation of individuals of a homosexual orientation since they consider it to be an immoral act. The primary reason behind this course of action taken by the military is simply stated as preventing the loss of solidarity within their units and in turn saving lives (Belkin, 2008).

Current State of military recruitment

According to Dean Sinclair in his literature review on homosexuals and the military, he gives statistics stating that originally the number of discharged individuals from the American military numbered 17,000. The current don’t ask don’t tell policy was the result of a compromise reached between President Clinton and Congress. This policy rather than increasing recruitment into the military resulted in 10,000 discharges between 1994 and 2003 (Sinclair, 2009).

According to Don M. Snider in his writings on “America’s Postmodern Military”, the gradual shift in viewpoints and policies of the military, is a direct result of lower recruitment since the end of the Cold War. With fewer and fewer civilians being recruited into the army, military commanders and their soldiers no longer see themselves as part of the public, but rather a separate entity altogether. The last bastion of integrity protecting their country’s values (Snider, 2000).

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Belkin writes In deference to the American military’s statements, the public viewpoint is in support of repealing this law. Every single poll taken by news organizations has shown the majority of the public supports the inclusion of gays in the military. Every single poll shows 58% to 79% of the public support the inclusion of homosexuals in the military. This group of individuals also includes the primarily republican viewership of Fox News and church-going individuals, the same individuals who are vehemently against homosexuality. Belkin suggests that even though these polls do not suggest a negative view of the military, they do provide sufficient cause for concern in cases of future recruitment (Belkin, 2008).

He further continues his discussion on how such a loss in manpower has led to a concentrated effort on the part of the United States military to bolster recruitment. They have taken up several activities to ingratiate themselves with the public trust. These range from simple advertising to trade and air shows. In 1993 the military had funds set aside for advertising which totaled 592 million dollars, the army even promotes its race car. Despite these efforts, the public has not seen to fit the military with a positive enough image to encourage volunteering (Belkin, 2008).

Snider focuses on how the loss of manpower in the military has led to the infiltration of small groups within it who are using this institution to further their agendas and politics. He cites a recent poll showing how an astonishing 75-80 percent of individuals in the military were opposed to gays serving openly, while a quarter said they would resign from the armed forces if they believed homosexuals would be permitted to join (Snider, 2000). While Belkin in a separate poll taken from military officers showed that only 17.5% of respondents were proud of the military for their involvement in such a policy, while 24.2% felt shame due to such actions and 56% were indifferent (Belkin, 2008).

Reasons why the gay ban should be repealed

Belkin suggests that if this loss in recruitment and the current trend of recalling soldiers who are ending their current rotations continue, the army would be picked apart by the news media. He cites editorials that have appeared in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, the Denver Post, and the USA today all supporting lifting the ban on gays in the U.S military. He particularly specifies certain editorial titles including the Chicago Tribune’s entitled “A Self-Inflicted Military Wound.”

Belkin suggests that though conservative news organizations are still supporting the military, continued defense of this policy will put the military in a negative light and give reporters more ammunition to criticize their efforts. This may in turn increase criticism from the public as well and affect their impression of the military. Belkin also suggests how such an action will give more power to antimilitary activists who have sought to curb military activities within the United States. These groups have shown great opposition against recruitment on school and college campuses and ROTC programs (Belkin, 2008).

Snider purposes that if current trends continue and the military is at a loss for soldiers, it will not only lose the personal standards of conduct in the case of race, gender, and sexual orientation which it has upheld for so long. They will also lose their “technical, ethical or socio-political standards of professionalism.” He suggests that continued trends will result in a larger discourse between the military and civilians and end with the military being unprepared to fight future wars due to their continued autonomous existence (Snider, 2000). Further Reyna and Shapiro pose the question of how if women can be considered to be viable recruits in non-fighting roles, how is it military do not consider homosexuals to be viable for any roles whatsoever? (Torres-Reyna & Shapiro, 2002)

Experiences of the United States military with homosexual military personnel

Statistical and personal accounts from a homosexual soldier who has served in Iraq by the name of Sergeant Stout can be found in Belkin’s article. This account and the data speak against the army’s contention that the revelation of an individual’s homosexuality would interfere with unit cohesion. He cites General Wesley Clark’s words who says that the “temperature of the issue has changed over the decade” (Belkin, 2008). He also provides studies of armed forces from other countries, as well as those who have worked joint missions with the American military and have found no evidence of any conflict or disagreements with homosexuals in their units (Belkin, 2008).

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Sinclair states that if the military is the largest employer in the United States sets precedence regarding homosexuals not being treated as equal citizens. It sets a perilous priority for the civilian sector (Sinclair, 2009).

Sinclair compares the current situation to the previous attempts by the military to integrate minorities into its ranks. The integration of African Americans and females into the military through the use of intervention strategies and integration programs was met with widespread opposition from the predominantly Caucasian military force at the time. He cites Allport’s writings as justification in saying that the only way to reduce such hostility between these two groups, is for the both of them to stand on equal footing with each other. Given the evidence it can be seen why Sinclair suggests that repealing such a law would go a long way towards attracting this section of the population and integrating them into the military (Sinclair, 2009).

Status of the military in other countries where homosexual recruitment occurs

Yagil Levey in his writings on a conceptual framework recruiting policy for homosexuals looks at the rest of the world for answers to how repealing such an act would affect the American military. His data shows several other countries in the world which have a higher tolerance for homosexuals in the military in comparison to the United States. The author does however state that even though certain countries allow homosexuals into their ranks and allow them to serve freely; this does not always translate into an increase in the military’s respect and social status within the country.

Sweden is one example of a country that does not discriminate against homosexuals, yet its army does not enjoy the same social status as the Turkish armed forces. Levey’s data suggests that repealing this law is key to removing the gap which currently exists between the United States Army and its public, however, such conclusions rely upon the current geo-political climate of that region. Given the recent wars that the United States has been involved in, such an action may be viewed as a positive statement and result in a higher social standing (Levy, 2007).

Experiences of soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces

The question also arises of how homosexuals who are currently serving or will serve shall acclimate themselves to the United States army has revealed their sexual orientation. Kaplan and Ben- Ari discusses how soldiers maintain their homosexual identity while serving in the Israeli army. They reveal how soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces are allowed to join the service despite the acknowledgment of their sexual orientation and are required to work within small groups of individuals, where unit cohesion is required for their success and survival. The authors conducted studies that provide an insight into the personal experience of certain soldiers in the IDF. They found that these soldiers though initially experiencing some difficulties integrating eventually formed bonds with their comrade in arms. They mentioned how their trust and friendship with their teammates extended beyond the boundaries of their duties (Kaplan & Ben-Ari, 2000).

How has lifting the ban on homosexuals affected the Israeli Army?

Alvin Belkin and Mellisa Levitt further explore how the lifting of the ban on homosexuals in 1993 affected the Israeli military. According to their studies conducted in 2001, since the ban has been lifted, the Israeli Defense Forces has seen little or no discrimination among its soldiers against their homosexual comrades. There have been reports of isolated incidents, however, studies researched by the authors towards gauging Israeli unit’s combat readiness, capability, solidarity, and morale have found the integration process to be quite successful. They particularly mention how this all occurred without the use of any intervention or programs on the part of the military and has been said to bolster the Israel army’s core defensive values.

They do mention that Israeli culture shares the same intolerance for homosexuals as the United States but they found that such tolerance was not necessary for unit cohesiveness. They offer Professor Laura Miller’s words as a conclusion, stating that merely lifting the ban on homosexuals will not affect unit performance; rather the reaction of heterosexual soldiers to their sexual orientation would do so. Additionally, they would not reveal their sexual identity unless they felt it was safe to do so (Belkin & Levitt, 2001).


If we consider how repealing the current Don’t ask Don’t tell policy will affect the military, current evidence and consensus seems to point to a more positive conclusion. The current polls and studies presented, not only shows a shift in the public consciousness towards the inclusion of homosexuals in the military but also show how ineffective the arguments of the military against the inclusion of homosexuals are. Homosexuals now constitute a sizable portion of the American population, repealing this law would not only aid the United States military in establishing a larger recruitment drive and fulfilling their quota for soldiers. It would also help improve their outlook within the public trust and thus further their goals.

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Belkin, A. (2008). “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”: Does the Gay Ban Undermine the Military’s Reputation? Armed Forces & Society Vol. 34 No.2, 276-291.

Belkin, A., & Levitt, M. (2001). Homosexuality and the Israel Defense Forces: Did Lifting the Gay Ban Undermine Military Performance? Armed Forces & Society No. 27, 541-565.

Kaplan, D., & Ben-Ari, E. (2000). Brothers and Others in Arms: Managing Gay Identity in Combat Units of the Israeli Army. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography No. 29, 396-430.

Levy, Y. (2007). The Right to Fight: A Conceptual Framework for the Analysis of Recruitment Policy toward Gays and Lesbians. Armed Forces & Society Issue 33, 186-202.

Sinclair, G. D. (2009). Homosexuality and the Military: A Review of the Literature. Journal of Homosexuality Volume 56 No. 6, 701-718.

Snider, D. M. (2000). America’s Postmodern Military. World Policy Journal, Vol. 17, No. 1, 47-54.

Torres-Reyna, O., & Shapiro, R. Y. (2002). The polls – trends: Women and sexual orientation in the military. Public Opnion Quarterly Volume 66 Number 4, 618-632.

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