Former general and admirals in the United States Armed Forces have called on the current policy that discriminates against gays and lesbians serving be overturned.

The group is headed by Retired Admiral Charles Larson, former Superintendent of the US Naval Academy.

He was a supporter of the “Dont’ Ask, Don’t Tell” policy when it was introduced in 1993 under the Clinton Presidency, but changed his view after he learned that “there were a lot of witch hunts and a lot of people were turned out on that basis.”

Among his co-signatories are nine Lieutenant Generals and three Vice Admirals.

“We – the undersigned – respectfully call for the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy,” the retired senior officers said in a statement last week.

“Those of us endorsing this letter have dedicated our lives to defending the rights of our citizens to believe whatever they wish.

“Scholarly data shows there are approximately one million gay and lesbian veterans in the United States today as well as 65,000 gays and lesbians currently serving in our Armed Forces.

“They have served our nation honourably.

“As is the case with Great Britain, Israel, and other nations that allow gays and lesbians to serve openly, our service members are professionals who are able to work together effectively despite differences in race, gender, religion, and sexuality.

“Such collaboration reflects the strength and the best traditions of our democracy.”

The most senior US military veteran in the House of Representatives also has called for an end to the ban.

Democrat Congressman Joe Sestak, who served 31 years in the Navy, retiring with the rank of three-star Admiral, is one of seventeen veterans in Congress who want to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

More than 150 of his Congressional colleagues have lent their support to the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would repeal the law.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll published in July found that three-quarters of Americans think that openly gay, lesbian and bisexual people should be allowed to serve in the military.

64% of Republicans and nearly two thirds of self-described conservatives backed a change in the current law, as did 57% of white evangelical Protestants and 82% of white Catholics.

The poll of 1,119 Americans revealed that support for gays in the military has steadily increased, from 44% in 1993 to 62% in 2001 to 75% today.

It was Republican opposition that forced then-President Bill Clinton to abandon his pledge to allow gay people to serve and signed into law the compromise known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Since 1993 gay people who do not reveal their sexuality can serve, and commanding officers are not meant to ask service personnel about their sexual orientation.

More than 12,000 gay men and women have been discharged under the current law, at an estimated cost of more than $363 million (£182.6m).

The current policy prohibits anyone who “demonstrates a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts” to serve in the US Armed Forces.

In May the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff said that Congress, and not the military, is responsible for the ban on openly lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans from military service.

Speaking to graduating cadets at West Point military academy, Admiral Mike Mullen said that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a law that the Armed Forces follow.

“Should the law change, the military will carry that out too,” he said.

President-elect Barack Obama backs repeal.

In an interview with Gay History Project in September, he said he would not use the office of President to abolish it.

“I want to make sure that when we revert “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” it’s gone through a process and we’ve built a consensus or at least a clarity of that, of what my expectations are, so that it works,” he said.

“My first obligation as the President is to make sure that I keep the American people safe and that our military is functioning effectively.

“Although I have consistently said I would repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” I believe that the way to do it is make sure that we are working through a process, getting the Joint Chiefs of Staff clear in terms of what our priorities are going to be.

“That’s how we were able to integrate the Armed Services to get women more actively involved.

“At some point, [you've] got to make a decision that that’s the right thing to do, but you always want to make sure that you are doing it in a way that maintains our core mission in our military.”