Conduct Unbecoming | General News & Politics | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

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“Homosexuality is incompatible with military service.”—
US Department of Defense Directive, 1982

The original ban on homosexuals serving in the military dates to just prior to World War II. According to Lois Shawver, author of And The Flag Was Still There: Straight People, Gay People, and Sexuality in the US Military, in the rush to fill the ranks of the armed services before the war, government psychiatrists were tasked with developing an effective method for screening out “undesirables” from military service. They came up with six “mental” illnesses or deficiencies, one of which was homosexuality. Treating homosexuality as a mental illness was officially debunked in the 1970s by the American Psychiatric Association. Since that time, the military’s position has been that allowing homosexuals to serve would be bad for morale, and wreak havoc with cohesion of small units during wartime.

Such thinking would not be challenged until over two decades later, when on February 5, 1994, initially hailed a landmark day for homosexuals, then-President Bill Clinton enacted Department of Defense Directive (DODD) 1304.26, Qualification Standards for Enlistment, Appointment, and Induction, appending the US Military’s long-standing policy for enlistment. As Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, the President is empowered by the Constitution to make just such a directive regarding military personnel, recruitment, and conduct. However, President Clinton, just one year into his first term, was limited by the fact that he most likely would have faced open protests from conservative officers, as well as many Republicans in Congress. This precarious position led to the limited, “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Overturning previous legislation enacted under former President Jimmy Carter, which reaffirmed the fact that homosexuals were strictly forbidden from serving in the military, President Clinton’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” directive enabled gays and lesbians to serve in the US armed force. Clear guidelines as to what questions recruiters, soldiers, and officers were to ask and not to ask enlistees, were set in place. No inquiries regarding an enlistee’s sexual orientation were to be made, nor was an enlistee to disclose their sexual orientation. Department of Defense Directive (DODD) 1332.14 was added to DODD 1304.26 in December of 1994 and clarified the definition of homosexuality. It reads, in part:

Homosexual conduct is grounds for separation from the Military Services under the terms set forth in subparagraph E3.A1., below.

Homosexual conduct includes homosexual acts, a statement by a member that demonstrates a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts, or a homosexual marriage or attempted marriage. A statement by a member that demonstrates a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts is grounds for separation not because it reflects the member’s sexual orientation, but because the statement indicates a likelihood that the member engages in or will engage in homosexual acts. A member’s sexual orientation is considered a personal and private matter, and is not a bar to continued service under this section unless manifested by homosexual conduct in the manner described in subparagraph E3.A1.

Only the last sentence of DODD 1304.26 affords the service member any protection at all. In 1994 it was considered a major step forward that conservatives would agree to this change, and was seen by many outside of politics as being in step with the times.

The fear of HIV/AIDS had begun to diminish with an openly HIV-positive Magic Johnson playing in the NBA. Hysteria gave way to understanding as America came to terms with the fact that AIDS was not a gay disease. Fifty years of Cold War had just ended. The “Evil Empire,” President Reagan’s moniker for the Soviet Union, had crumbled. A new, albeit brief, spirit of peace overtook the world, and it appeared that the country had suddenly become more accepting.

While DODD 1304.26 was, at the outset, lauded as a major breakthrough in gay rights, it has since become heavily criticized as falling far short of its intended goal of equality. For many, the question that is often asked is: “What really changed that February day in 1994?”

“You can’t compromise equality,” responded Ginny Apuzzo, president of the board of the Hudson Valley Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Queer Community Center in Kingston, and former Clinton administration appointee. Making no bones about her sentiments that Clinton’s policy was and continues to be a complete failure, she added, “‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ is some kind of a charade that is supposed to make everyone feel good. Equal means equal. Not nearly equal.”

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