Ask and Tell

Ask and Tell: Gay and Lesbian Veterans Speak Out

Copyright Date: 2007
DOI: 10.5149/9780807889855_estes
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Ask and Tell
    Book Description:

    "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was the directive of President Clinton's 1993 military policy regarding gay and lesbian soldiers. This official silence continued a collective amnesia about the patriotic service and courageous sacrifices of homosexual troops.Ask and Tellrecovers these lost voices, offering a rich chronicle of the history of gay and lesbian service in the U.S. military from World War II to the Iraq War.Drawing on more than 50 interviews with gay and lesbian veterans, Steve Estes charts the evolution of policy toward homosexuals in the military over the past 65 years, uncovering the ways that silence about sexuality and military service has affected the identities of gay veterans. These veteran voices--harrowing, heroic, and on the record--reveal the extraordinary stories of ordinary Americans, men and women who simply did their duty and served their country in the face of homophobia, prejudice, and enemy fire. Far from undermining national security, unit cohesion, or troop morale, Estes demonstrates, these veterans strengthened the U.S. military in times of war and peace. He also examines challenges to the ban on homosexual service, placing them in the context of the wider movement for gay rights and gay liberation.Ask and Tellis an important compilation of unheard voices, offering Americans a new understanding of the value ofallthe men and women who serve and protect them.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0477-0
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-4)
    DOI: 10.5149/9780807889855_estes.4

    Robert Stout peered through his night vision goggles at the road ahead. He was manning the M-2 Browning machine gun atop a U.S. Army Humvee. The Tigris River was not far off, and neither was the safety of his base. It had been a long night already. Stout’s platoon of army engineers had been sent to investigate an abandoned truck by the side of the road. They were checking for IEDS—Improvised Explosive Devices—which have caused many of the casualties in the Iraq War. But this time, it was just an abandoned truck. On the way back to base,...

    (pp. 5-28)
    DOI: 10.5149/9780807889855_estes.5

    The men and women who served in the military during World War II have become known as “the greatest generation.” Although there are exceptions, the majority of these veterans have been exceedingly humble about the sacrifices that they made in service to the United States. When asked why they served, almost every one of them answers: “I was just doing my duty.” This is true of gay as well as heterosexual veterans. Patriotism runs strong among them all.¹

    Just talk to Charles Rowland, a gay draftee from Phoenix, Arizona. Rowland knew “an awful lot of gay people but nobody, with...

    (pp. 29-58)
    DOI: 10.5149/9780807889855_estes.6

    It seemed as if Americans were just cleaning up the ticker tape from World War II victory parades when the Cold War began in the late 1940s. Communism eclipsed fascism as the greatest apparent threat to democracy and capitalism. Formerly allies, the Soviet Union and the United States soon faced off across an ideological abyss. Since direct military conflict between the superpowers risked atomic war and later, nuclear holocaust, the Cold War was fought primarily through proxy wars in the developing world and espionage in the developed world.

    Korea, divided after World War II between a communist regime in the...

  7. 3 VIETNAM
    (pp. 59-92)
    DOI: 10.5149/9780807889855_estes.7

    During the Vietnam War era, everybody wanted to be gay—at least, every man who was eligible for the draft but who did not want to serve in Southeast Asia. Since the Department of Defense continued to view homosexuality as a ‘‘moral defect,’’ homosexuals were one of the few groups of ablebodied young men (aside from students, veterans, and reservists) who were theoretically ineligible for the draft during the war. Ironically, one of the few groups of young men who didnotwant the military to think that they were homosexuals were gay military personnel proudly serving their country.


    (pp. 93-129)
    DOI: 10.5149/9780807889855_estes.8

    The idea for a United States military academy is almost as old as this country. In 1799, George Washington suggested the creation of such an institution in a letter to his friend and fellow Revolutionary War veteran Alexander Hamilton. ‘‘The establishment of a military academy [has] ever been considered by me to be an object of the highest national importance,’’ Washington wrote.¹ West Point was founded in 1802, and there are few national institutions more steeped in tradition. The ‘‘Long Gray Line’’ of West Point graduates reads like a ‘‘who’s who’’ of American military history: Lee, Jackson, Grant, Custer, Pershing,...

    (pp. 130-151)
    DOI: 10.5149/9780807889855_estes.9

    Even though women had supported, fought, and even been wounded in every American war since the Revolution, they did not actually become integrated into the regular armed forces until the 1970s. In that decade, as the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) and other auxiliary forces gradually gave way to a gender-integrated military, women who served felt as if they were fighting a war in a time of peace. This was a war for respect, a war for equality, a war for inclusion in the ‘‘band of brothers.’’ For gay rights advocates, and some of the interviewees in this book, who argue...

  10. 6 THE GULF WAR
    (pp. 152-184)
    DOI: 10.5149/9780807889855_estes.10

    For gay men and lesbians in the military, the decade of the 1980s was an especially difficult time because of evolving Defense Department policies. In 1981 the department decreed that ‘‘homosexuality is incompatible with military service’’ and the presence of gay troops ‘‘adversely affects . . . the good order and morale’’ of the armed forces. Interviewed in 1982, Major General Norman Schwarzkopf explained that gay men and lesbians were simply ‘‘unsuited’’ for the military. Discharges of enlisted personnel, which had declined to fewer than a thousand per year during the Vietnam War, jumped back up to 1,976 in 1981...

  11. 7 THE BAN
    (pp. 185-209)
    DOI: 10.5149/9780807889855_estes.11

    Behind the official ban on open gay and lesbian military service lies a policy that has been continually reconsidered and revised. The passage of ‘‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’’ was simply the most public stage of this evolution. In fact, men and women within the military, the courts, and the federal government have long debated the ban. Public challenges began in earnest during the 1970s.

    The years during and immediately after the Vietnam War were in some sense, a high tide for gay liberation, before the ebb that came with the AIDS epidemic and the conservative backlash to the social movements...

  12. 8 OUT RANKS
    (pp. 210-228)
    DOI: 10.5149/9780807889855_estes.12

    In December 2003, for the first time in American history, three retired flag officers publicly declared that they were gay. It is difficult to provide historical context for such an unprecedented event. Historians usually leave such topics to their colleagues in journalism or political science. Yet coming out for these men was a chance to reevaluate careers in the military that stretched back several decades and to focus these years of experience on an open and honest discussion of the ban and ‘‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’’

    ‘‘I wanted to come out to make a statement that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’...

    (pp. 229-254)
    DOI: 10.5149/9780807889855_estes.13

    In the years since the passage of ‘‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’’ the United States has been involved in major military conflicts in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq, as well as smaller operations in Haiti, Somalia, and elsewhere. Gay and lesbian service personnel have been called to serve in every one of these conflicts.¹ The three interviewees in this chapter each served in two of America’s most recent wars, seeing more action than most veterans (gay or straight) saw in the twenty years before the passage of ‘‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’’

    With the Cold War drawing to a close in the...

    (pp. 255-261)
    (pp. 262-262)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 263-274)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 275-280)