Right up until World War Two, homosexuality was seen quite unequivocally as a crime for which people could be (and usually were) drummed out of the ranks.
From World War Two onwards the official line changed to seeing homosexuality as a mental illness. This mean the focus changed from kicking us out to preventing us getting in in the first place! Anyone known or perceived to be gay was barred ‘on medical grounds’.
Of course, as we know with such political issues as this, there’s usually a bit of hypocrisy involved at some stage. And, sure enough, when the Department of Defense (DoD) found itself short of recruits during the Korean War, the screening became a lot more relaxed.
But once the military’s recruitment problems were resolved the crackdown was back on again. And just to make it absolutely clear, in 1982 the DoD issued a directive that stated:
“Homosexuality is incompatible with military service. The presence in the military environment of persons who engage in homosexual conduct or who, by their statements demonstrate a propensity to engage in homosexual conduct, seriously impairs the accomplishment of the military mission. The presence of such members adversely affects the ability of the Military Services to maintain discipline, good order, and morale; to foster mutual trust and confidence among service members; to ensure the integrity of the system of rank an command; to facilitate assignment and worldwide deployment of service members who frequently must live and work under close conditions affording minimal privacy; to recruit and retain members of the Military Services; to maintain public acceptability of military service; and to prevent breaches of security.”
Couldn’t be any plainer than that then could it! Put a queer in uniform and all hell will break loose!
Ten years later, a report by the US Government’s General Accounting Office (GAO) in response to requests from a group of Congressmen spelled out some of the costs of this policy. It found that some 17,000 service men and women had been discharged under this directive. On average there were around 1,500 expulsions a year, with a high of around 2,000 in 1982 and a low of 1,000 in 1990.
The navy was found to have a disproportionately higher rate of discharges: the navy constituted 27 per cent of America’s armed forces but accounted for 51 per cent of all discharges. Similarly, women constituted 11 per cent of the naval force but accounted for 22 per cent of those discharged.
The report also revealed that:
“no determination that [the expelled service men and women’s] behavior had adversely affected the ability of the military services to perform their mission was required.”
In other words, people could be kicked out just for being gay, irrespective of whether or not that had genuinely caused any problems.
In practice this also meant that evidence that could either support or challenge this wholesale discrimination was never collected.
Unsurprisingly, the Department of Defense challenged the findings of the GAO report. It denied that the policy was based on the belief that homosexuality was a mental disorder or that it posed security concerns (despite its 1982 directive saying precisely that). Putting all its eggs in one basket, it claimed that the policy was necessary to ensure “good order, discipline and morale”.
No evidence was presented to support this position. Indeed, just to be on the safe side, DoD also declared that ‘scientific or sociological evidence’ was unlikely to affect its policy.
Seems like a fancy way of justifying blind prejudice. Little surprise, then, that it’s taken so long to achieve a real change in policy.