Commentary: Looking back at ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

  • Published
  • By Deirdre A. Briscoe
  • Tinker Pride Council

It has been 11 years since the repeal of the discriminatory law known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

In early military history, homosexuality was listed as an excludable characteristic for joining the military. As a result, many LGBTQ+ service members were forced to serve in silence regarding their sexual identity in fear of being discharged.

In 1993, the Clinton administration, in an effort to end the ban on homosexuals in the military, introduced the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. This policy was passed by Congress and went into law in February 1994. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” eliminated the requirement for individuals to disclose their sexuality and military officials could no longer investigate. Although this seemed to be a step in the right direction, in reality the policy deprived LGTBQ+ service members the opportunity to serve their country openly.

Under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” discrimination against military service members thought to be homosexuals, was prohibited. Service members were also prohibited from disclosing any same-sex relationships or sexual orientation. Any homosexual conduct was still a basis for discharge. As a result, LGBTQ+ service members were still required to live under a shroud of secrecy while serving our great country. Many lived in constant fear that their military career could be destroyed, should anyone find out about their personal life.

On Dec. 18, 2010, the House and Senate passed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and President Barack Obama signed it into law Dec. 22, 2010. The repeal became official on Sept. 20, 2011.

On the 10th anniversary of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, President Joe Biden announced that the Department of Veterans Affairs would start providing benefits for service members who received other-than-honorable discharges because of their sexual orientation.

There is still work to be done regarding the discrimination of our LGBTQ+ service members, but as a result of the hard work of advocates and allies for the LGBTQ+ community and our legislators, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” allows our service members to serve their country without fear of being lawfully discriminated against or from being discharged as a result of their sexual identity.