Thursday marks the 25th anniversary of former President Bill Clinton’s announcement of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy, a compromise between military leadership and Clinton’s base that allowed gay individuals to serve in the military as long as they didn’t disclose their sexual identity.
Prior to this policy, gay men and women were completely banned from the military and forced to lie on their applications if they wanted to serve. Military leaders in the Joint Chiefs of Staff argued at the time that openly gay service members would disrupt “unit cohesion,” threatening unit effectiveness, Time reports.
Although this new policy allowed gay individuals to serve, many involved with gay rights campaigns argued DADT simply repackaged the former ban.
“Investigative services were still going and looking at license plates at gay bars outside military bases, they were still hauling people in and questioning them,” Keith Meinhold, a former Navy service member, told Time.
DADT was repealed under the Obama administration in 2011, allowing gay individuals to openly serve in the military for the first time. Military leaders received training on how to transition behaviors from the old policy.
“Gay and lesbian Americans eager to serve the country but not willing to compromise who they are as individuals will, for the first time ever, be able to openly join,” said the Human Rights Campaign after the repeal. “And brave men and women currently serving will have the freedom to come out and be honest with their comrades about who they are and who they love.”
According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of Americans who support allowing openly gay individuals to serve in the military consistently floated around 60 between 2005 and 2010, while the percentage who oppose it has decreased. In 1994, a year after DADT was enacted, 45% of Americans opposed openly gay individuals serving in the military. By 2010, this number had dropped to 27%.
While DADT was criticized as continuing oppression against gay service members, it’s also been seen as a step towards the expansion of gay rights overall. Yet, such rights have not been earned universally. Just last year, President Donald Trump attempted to ban all transgender individuals from serving in the military. The ban was shut down in the courts, but the controversy showed that the debate for equal human rights is far from over.