This week marks the fifth anniversary of openly gay soldiers being allowed in the US military, after the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994 as part of a compromise deal with conservatives, banning military authorities from carrying out gay ‘witch hunts’ while maintaining a ban on gay soldiers.
For nearly two decades under the policy, gay people were dismissed for speaking about any their sexuality while serving in the United States armed forces, while officials were prohibited from ‘investigating’ service members they suspected of homosexuality.
The policy came to an end on September 20, 2011, after Barack Obama signed a law repealing the instruction – allowing gay, bisexual and lesbian soldiers to serve openly in the military for the first time.
Transgender soldiers followed earlier this year, when the armed forces amended its medical code to remove ‘transgenderism’ as a disqualifying condition.
At the time, evangelicals and senior Republicans claimed that allowing gay people into the military would lead to the destruction of US armed forces.
Former Presidential hopeful Rick Perry famously played off it in 2012, releasing a TV ad complaining there’s “something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas”.
Mike Pence, Donald Trump’s Vice Presidential pick, also bitterly opposed reform on the issue.
Pence fumed at the time: “Homosexuality is incompatible with military service because the presence of homosexuals in the ranks weakens unit cohesion.”
The Democratic National Committee’s LGBT Caucus Chair Earl Fowlkes hailed the anniversary.
He said: “In the five years since Congress repealed the discriminatory Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, we’ve made great strides in expanding and protecting the rights of the LGBT community in the United States, but we still have further to go.
“More than 13,000 service members were discharged under DADT, denying those men and women the opportunity to serve our nation, and diminishing the strength of our armed forces in the process.
“By repealing the policy, we no longer treat members of the LGBT community as second-class citizens in our armed forces, and we are a stronger nation for it – both militarily and morally.
“Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine want to build on that progress. They believe in standing up for the LGBT community, ending discrimination, and fighting for our full rights. Donald Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence, would only drag us backwards on LGBT rights.
“They both support North Carolina’s discriminatory HB2 ‘bathroom bill,’ and as governor, Pence signed a so-called ‘religious freedom’ bill into law, which threatened to allow businesses to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.
“We need to elect a president and vice president who will treat members of the LGBT community as full citizens, and who will fight to protect the civil rights of all Americans.”