Tag Archives: Forgotten Heros

Black History Month: Forgotten Gay Hero Perry Watkins – Watkins vs. The United States Army (1982)

Perry Watkins was an African-American gay man, and one of the first service members to challenge the ban against homosexuals in the United States military. Watkins was also the only person ordered reinstated to active military duty by a court after being dismissed for gay.

The United States Army drafted Perry Watkins in 1968.  Watkins, an openly gay African American male, was proud to serve and  stated honestly that he was homosexual when military officials asked him and admitted him at a time when it was forbidden for openly gay men to serve. But the Army needed men to fight at a time when American citizens were becoming wary of the war machine.

During Watkins’ initial three-year tour of military duty, he served in the United States and Korea as a chaplain’s assistant, personnel specialist, and company clerk.

A year after his induction, in 1968, Watkins signed an affidavit stating that he had been a homosexual from the age of 13 and that, since his enlistment, he had engaged in sodomy with two other servicemen, a crime under military law.

When his first enlistment period expired in 1970, Watkins received an honorable discharge, but his reenlistment eligibility code was listed as “unknown.” In 1971, Watkins requested correction of the reenlistment designation and the Army corrected the code to category 1, “eligible for reentry on active duty.”  Shortly thereafter, he reenlisted for a second three-year term. In 1972, Watkins was denied a security clearance because of his homosexuality, and the Army again investigated him for allegedly committing sodomy and again terminated the investigation for insufficient evidence. Following another honorable discharge in 1974, the Army accepted Watkins’ application for a six-year reenlistment.  In October 1979, the Army yet again accepted Watkins’ application for another three-year reenlistment.

But in 1981 the Army promulgated a regulation that mandated the discharge of all homosexuals regardless of merit and after 14 year of military service Major General Elton recommended that Watkins be discharged.

Watkins fought the discharge and on October 5, 1982, the district court enjoined the Army from refusing to reenlist Watkins because of his admitted homosexuality, holding that the Army was equitably stopped from relying on the nonwaivable disqualification provisions of its new regulation. The Army re-enlisted Watkins for a six-year term on November 1, 1982, with the proviso that the reenlistment would be voided if the district court’s injunction were not upheld on appeal.

In 1989, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco, voting 7 to 4, upheld the injuction and ordered the Army to allow Mr. Watkins re-enlist. It was the first time a U.S. appellate court ruled against the U.S. military’s ban on service by gays and lesbians. The Bush administration sought Supreme Court review of that decision without success. Watkins initially planned to reenlist, but settled instead for a retroactive promotion to sergeant first class, $135,000 in retroactive pay, full retirement benefits, and an honorable discharge.

But Watkins’ story took a sad turn in the early 1990s, when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was enacted during the presidency of Bill Clinton. Watkins rushed to help the gay community but was ignored. The individuals chosen to play such a role where white veterans like Keith Meinhold and Joseph Steffan. Watkins’ experience as a drag artist and frank admissions of sexual encounters with other male servicemembers created a “public relations problem”.  In the words of Tom Stoddard, head of Lambda Legal, referring to Margarethe Cammermeyer, who was embraced by movement leaders, Watkins wrote: “We’ll go with a [white] woman who led a lie for fifty-sex years before we go with a black man who had to live the struggle nearly every day of his life.”

Sadly Perry Watkins did not live to see the repeal of DADT. 

Perry Watkins passed away on March 17, 1996 at his home in Tacoma, Washington of complications related to AIDS .

Perry Watkins is a forgotten gay hero that needs to be, and should be remembered.

Remembering Duane Kearns Puryear ( Dec. 20, 1964 - Oct. 8, 1991 )

FORGOTTEN HEROES: Remembering Duane Kearns Puryear ( Dec. 20, 1964 – Oct. 8, 1991 )

One of the most powerful and memorable panels on the AIDS Memorial Quilt, made of white cloth with stark black letters belongs to that of Duane Kearns Puryear.

“My name is Duane Kearns Puryear. I was born on December 20, 1964. I was diagnosed with AIDS on September 7, 1987 at 4:45 PM. Sometimes, it makes me very sad. I made this panel myself. If you are reading it, I am dead…”

It has become a symbol of the Quilt’s potential as a tool for advocacy. ” In many ways, Duane Puryear’s story is like so many others represented on the Quilt. He struggled with anti-gay parents and developed his voice as an activist by organizing within the gay community in Dallas and participating in various direct action demonstrations for AIDS awareness and support.

In May 1988, Duane volunteered at the Dallas stop of the first national tour of the AIDS Quilt. Duane’s parents said that Duane wanted to be the first person to make his own panel for the AIDS Quilt.

In a 1989 interview for an educational AIDS film, Duane recounted a horrific story of a staff member at a hospital in Dallas telling him and his mother that she wished that Duane “would hurry up and die” so that she wouldn’t have to clean his room.

His friends and family remember Duane as brilliant, charismatic, gregarious, handsome, dynamic, frank, and unflinching in his commitment to destigmatize HIV/AIDS.  He dedicated his short life to art, education, advocacy, and prevention efforts

Happy Birthday Duane

We remember

You can read more about Duane Kearns Puryear at The Dallas Way