Gay History – July 19, 1993: President Bill Clinton Unveils Disastrous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Policy

July 19, 1993 -President Bill Clinton Unveils “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Policy:

Let me say a few words now about this policy. It is not a perfect solution. It is not identical with some of my own goals. And it certainly will not please everyone, perhaps not anyone, and clearly not those who hold the most adamant opinions on either side of this issue.”

These are the words said by then President Bill Clinton on this day in 1993 as he unveiled a new policy on gays and lesbians in the military, which he called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue.”

This new policy according to Clinton was as a “compromise “ therefore breaking his campaign promise to overturn the military’s ban. “Because [the military] is a conservative institution, it is right for the military to be wary of sudden changes…it is also right for the military to make changes when the time for change is at hand.” Clinton said.

Clinton’s original plan for repeal was fought by Sen. Sam Nunn (D-GA), chair of the powerful U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee. With the support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Congress began the process of rushing through a federal law to reinforce the Pentagon’s then-existing policy of total exclusion. Clinton instead of fighting immediately worked on a compromise , and so on July 19, at a speech at the National Defense University at Ft. McNair Clinton unveiled DADT

I have ordered Secretary Aspin to issue a directive consisting of these essential elements: One, service men and women will be judged based on their conduct, not their sexual orientation. Two, therefore the practice, now 6 months old, of not asking about sexual orientation in the enlistment procedure will continue. Three, an open statement by a service member that he or she is a homosexual will create a rebuttable presumption that he or she intends to engage in prohibited conduct, but the service member will be given an opportunity to refute that presumption; in other words, to demonstrate that he or she intends to live by the rules of conduct that apply in the military service. And four, all provisions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice will be enforced in an even-handed manner as regards both heterosexuals and homosexuals. And thanks to the policy provisions agreed to by the Joint Chiefs, there will be a decent regard to the legitimate privacy and associational rights of all service members.

Sen. Nunn and other opponents of lifting the ban altogether accepted this so-called compromise, and it was attached to the Defense Appropriations Act of 1994 and passed later that year. But put to the test it was a major failure. Service members were discharged based solely on evidence of sexual orientation, recruits were asked about their sexual orientation as part of their enlistment procedure, and any hint that a service member was gay — even if that hint did not come from the service member himself — resulted in an immediate investigation with the goal of discharge from the armed forces. Over the next eighteen years that the policy remained in effect, 14,346 gay and lesbian soldiers, sailors and airmen/women were discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” until it was finally repealed by President Obama in 2011.  Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was a total disaster.

“In retrospect, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was an astonishing act of political cowardice,” Matt Taibbi wrote in Rolling Stone magazine. “Telling gay men and women that they had to hide who they were in order to earn the privilege of getting shot at for our idiot military adventures was almost worse than open bigotry. It essentially institutionalized the closet.”

After DADT the Clinton Administration entered a phase of deep reluctance to tackle substantive gay-rights issues on the national stage. Although Clinton made a number of first-ever, high-profile appointments of gay leaders to his team, any kind of gay-rights policy agenda seemed stalled as a result of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

On September 21, 1996 President William Jefferson Clinton would blindside the LGBT community once again for his own political gain by signing the Defense of Marriage Act into law,

5 thoughts on “Gay History – July 19, 1993: President Bill Clinton Unveils Disastrous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Policy

  1. You adequately point out the fact that the Republican controlled congress and the military wanted a complete ban on homosexuals in the military. Our Republic (America is not a democracy) is one of compromise. No one gets everything they want. Bill Clinton wisely assessed that a total ban would be passed if he didn’t come up with a compromise. Remember, we are talking about the early ’90’s here and the American attitude about homosexuality was considerable different than it is now. I should know as I lived through that period. Placing so much negativity on Clinton’s presidency is myopic.

    1. I should know. I also lived through the period. Placing so much negativity on Clinton’s presidency is truthful. Between DADT and DOMA Clinton failed us. I am not going to cover that up because of Clinton apologists don’t like it.

  2. What Matt Taibbi said summarizes it all: this policy institutionalized the closet. It was a populist maneuver disguised as good intentions. A palliative for both sides who hoped to have their demands met. The difference is that one side demanded for its basic rights, and the other side demanded for the right to discriminate without being reprimanded.
    What strikes me most, however, is that this was quite recent in terms of history. This reminds us of how much the LGBTQIA+ community is at a disadvantage compared to the rest of society.

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