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"Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" and its repeal

For decades, the US armed forces sought to debar LGBTQ people from their ranks through a variety of mechanisms, and using a shifting array of justifications. Gay men and lesbians were variously denounced as 'sex perverts,' security threats, a danger to unit cohesion, and corrosive of combat effectiveness. But by the late twentieth century, overt anti-gay discrimination had become politically less tenable for the armed forces and their civilian Commander in Chief. During the Clinton era, the military altered its approach, introducing a policy known as 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' in 1993 which allowed gay men and women to serve, but only so long as their sexuality remained 'in the closet.' DADT continued as official policy until 2011. In this seminar, we'll examine why the 1993 shift to semi-acceptance of gay personnel occurred; how DADT functioned, and why it was ultimately overturned.

Indicative seminar questions:

  • has the US military always and exclusively been a homophobic institution, or should we complicate how we understand queerness in the armed forces?
  • what functions were DADT intended to serve for the military as an institution?
  • why did DADT seem to have more pernicious consequences for lesbian soldiers than their gay male colleagues?
  • was the repeal of DADT in 2011 a case (as one writer put it) of 'progress where you might least expect it'? Why or why not?

Required reading:

Steve Estes, Ask and Tell: Gay and Lesbian Veterans Speak Out (2007), ch.8, ‘The Ban’, pp.185-209, e-book

Beth Bailey, ‘The Politics of Dancing: ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Role of Moral Claims,’ Journal of Policy History, 25: 1 (2013): 89-113

Aaron Belkin and Melissa S. Embser-Herbert, ‘A Modest Proposal: Privacy as a Flawed Rationale for the Exclusion of Gays and Lesbians from the US Military,’ International Security, 27: 2 (Fall 2002): 178-97

Christin M. Damiano, 'Lesbian Baiting in the Military: Institutionalized Sexual Harassment Under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue,"' Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law 7, 3 (1999): 499-522

Supplementary reading:

‘Progress Where You Might Least Expect It: The Military’s Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”’, Harvard Law Review, 127: 6 (April 2014): 1791-1814

Tarak Barkawi et al, ‘Rights and Fights: Sexual Orientation and Military Effectiveness’, International Security, 24:1 (Summer 1999): 181-201

Allan Berube, Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II (1990) e-book

Aaron Belkin, Bring Me Men: Military Masculinity and the Benign Façade of American Empire, 1898-2001 (2012)

Lemer Bronson, The Last Deployment: How A Gay, Hammer-Swinging Twentysomething Survived a Year in Iraq (2011) e-book

Alex Buchman (ed), Barracks Bad Boys: Authentic Accounts of Sex in the Armed Forces (2013), e-book

Margot Canaday, The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America (2009)

Brandon A. Davis, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Background and Issues on Gays in the Military (2010), e-book

Elizabeth Kier, ‘Homosexuals in the US Military: Open Integration and Combat Effectiveness,’ International Security, 23: 2 (Fall 1998): 5-39

National Defense Research Institute, Sexual Orientation and US Military Personnel Policy: An Update of RAND’s 1993 Study (RAND, 2010) e-book