Ask and Tell: Gay Veterans, Identity, and Oral History on a Civil Rights Frontier


Estes, Steve. 2005. “Ask and Tell: Gay Veterans, Identity, and Oral History on a Civil Rights Frontier.” Oral History Review 32 (2): 21–47.

Author: Steve Estes


In 1993 the "don't ask don't tell" policy legislated the silence of gay and lesbian soldiers on active duty and in the reserves. This silence about gays in the military has led to a collective amnesia about the patriotic service and courageous sacrifices of homosexual troops. If we forget that gay and lesbian Americans have served their country, then we as a nation are much less likely to view them as full citizens, deserving of civil rights and equal protection of the law. Oral history provides one way to break this silence, to ‘ask and tell’ about the military careers of gay and lesbian soldiers and to allow these veterans to speak for themselves about the current military policy. Based on more than fifty interviews with gay and lesbian veterans, this article chronicles the evolution of military policy regarding homosexuality since World War II, and it explores the intersection of veterans' identities based on race, sexuality, and military service. As these interviews illustrate, gays and lesbians have served honorably in the military during times of war and peace. Far from undermining unit cohesion or morale, these troops have strengthened America's armed forces. Interviews with gay and lesbian veterans provide an Opportunity to explore several themes underlying the debate about homosexuality and military service: 1) the relationship between racism and homophobia in the military; 2) varying attitudes about military service within gay communities; 3) contrasting experiences of gay men and lesbians in the military; and 4) the evolving nature of gay veterans' identities.

Keywords: LGBT, U.S. military, United States, homosexuality, Don't Ask Don't Tell

Topics: LGBTQ, Military Forces & Armed Groups Regions: Americas, North America Countries: United States of America

Year: 2005

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