A Look Back: The Fall of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and the Continued Fight for Transgender Military Service

By Shane Stahl • September 20, 2018 • 10:55 am

September 20, 2011 stands as a historic day in both military and LGBTQ history – on that day, the discriminatory and controversial policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) officially ended. LGB Americans could finally serve their country openly.

DADT originally took effect in 1993 — ironically, as the result of a campaign pledge Bill Clinton made to clear the way for open service. After Clinton assumed office, Congress moved to push through a ban on LGBTQ service. Eventually, Clinton and anti-LGBTQ forces arrived at a so-called ‘compromise’ – the DADT policy. The policy outlined that military officers could not question prospective recruits about their sexual orientation; however, if soldiers engaged in “homosexual conduct” or identified themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, they would be dishonorably discharged.

Efforts to repeal DADT percolated for the next two decades, but it wasn’t until 2008 – when Barack Obama pledged to repeal the discriminatory measure – that repeal efforts kicked into high-gear. In November 2010, the Joint Chiefs released the results of a comprehensive working group that had considered the effectiveness – or lack thereof – of a ban on open service. The working group found that   allowing LGB people to serve openly would have no significant impact on military readiness or morale. In December 2010, legislation repealing DADT cleared Congress with bipartisan support. Unsurprisingly, the repeal of DADT had no negative consequences for military readiness or morale. One year after DADT repeal officially took effect, a study released by The Palm Center showed there were no negative consequences as a result of repeal.

But our fight to ensure all LGBTQ Americans are free to serve their country is not over. Although LGB people have been able to openly serve for seven years, transgender Americans who want to serve their country continue to face discrimination. . In 2016 the Obama administration announced its plan to lift the policy banning openly transgender servicemembers from enlisting. But in the summer of 2017, President Donald Trump delayed the start date and tweeted intentions to ban transgender people from military service outright.

Our  legal partners, including the ACLU, GLAD, NCLR, Lambda Legal, OutServe-SLDN, and others have filed suit against the administration, challenging the constitutionality and outwardly discriminatory nature of the attempted ban. The first ruling on the ban, instituting a stay on its implementation, came down in October, 2017; since then, all subsequent court decisions have continued to stay the ban, in addition to ordering the administration to provide documents and communications regarding its creation and implementation. Due to the stay, transgender people were able to officially register for service beginning on the original projected start date of January 1.

While great strides have been made regarding nondiscrimination in the military, the battle will not be won until all people are able to serve their country and live openly, regardless of who they are or who they love. We will continue to fight to #ProtectTransTroops and ensure their basic dignity. To voice your support, sign our pledge to support LGBTQ protections here.


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