The history and evolution of LGBT laws in the military workforce

Marine Major Darrel Choat didn’t tell — For thirteen years.

At 47, he was single and a respected marine.

It was 13 years of hesitation and reluctance for Choat when his buddies would try to set him up with women. It meant living a personal life in hiding and "sneaking away to attend the funeral of a friend who'd died of AIDS. It meant staying silent when fellow Marines ranted about 'fags'.”

Throughout history and during World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War, the military characterized homosexuality as a “mental disorder” and officially put a ban on gays altogether from serving.

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In 1992, the Department of Defense periodically discharged almost 17,000 members, when the it was declared in writing that homosexuality is considered “incompatible with military service.”

By 1994, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law was established by the Clinton Administration and was a policy put into place that still barred any openly gay, lesbian or bisexual person from serving in the military, while the policy now prohibited service members from discriminating against or harassing any “closeted” members of the LGBT community.

Through Pentagon leaders’ efforts, the dismissal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law was successful.

Choat said in his personal essay, 'The End of Don't Ask, Don't Tell': “It is time for the Marine Corps to end the bigotry and prejudice regarding sexual orientation and to give Marines, combat veterans and Purple Heart recipients the respect and consideration they have earned.”

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In 2010, Obama signed the 'Don’t Ask' repeal and in September of the following year it went into effect. Over the next five years, gay Americans would legally and openly be able serve in the nation’s military for the first time.

In a public statement the president said: “Finally, I want to express my gratitude to the men and women in this room who have worn the uniform of the United States Armed Services. I want to thank all the patriots who are here today, all of them who were forced to hang up their uniforms as a result of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — but who never stopped fighting for this country, and who rallied and who marched and fought for change. I want to thank everyone here who stood with them in that fight.”

During the ceremony, Obama recognized honorable soldiers who were formerly discharged because of their sexual orientation.

“They fought just as hard, gave just as much to protect this nation and the ideals for which it stands,” he said.

“There can be little doubt there were gay soldiers who fought for American independence, who consecrated the ground at Gettysburg, who manned the trenches along the Western Front, who stormed the beaches of Iwo Jima. Their names are etched into the walls of our memorials — their headstones dot the grounds at Arlington.”

He went on to name a few of them.

“Distinguished officers like former Navy commander Zoe Dunning – Marines like Eric Alva, one of the first Americans to be injured in Iraq. Leaders like Captain Jonathan Hopkins, who led a platoon into northern Iraq during the initial invasion, quelling an ethnic riot, earning a Bronze Star with valor," he added.

Following the 2010 repeal, LGBT laws in military have continued to evolve.

In the summer of 2013, the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which “forced the federal government to deny more than 1,000 federal benefits and protections to legally married same-sex couples that were freely available to different-sex couples.”

On July 1, 2016, another turning point ensued, when the ban on openly transgender members of the military was repealed, making all LGBT members inclusive to serve their country.

In a 2014 study by the Williams Institute, an estimated "150,000 transgender individuals have served in the U.S. armed forces or in active duty, 134,000 transgender individuals are veterans or are retired from Guard or Reserve service, 8,800 transgender adults are currently on active duty in the U.S. armed forces, and nearly 6,700 transgender individuals were serving in the Guard or Reserve forces during this time," according to the report.

At a news conference in June, Defense Secretary Ash Carter discussed the importance of the ensuing admittance of service members who are most qualified, regardless of their sexual orientation.

“Our mission is to defend this country, and we don’t want barriers unrelated to a person’s qualification to serve preventing us from recruiting or retaining the soldier, sailor, airman or Marine who can best accomplish the mission,” Carter said.

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