ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. — In 2022, the Armed Forces are comprised of a melting pot of different ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations and genders, all working together toward a common goal, protecting our country.
This was not always the case, though. One group in particular had to fight for their acceptance within the military – the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community, also known as the LGBTQ+ community.
Dr. Bruce LeBlanc, professor emeritus of psychology and sociology from Black Hawk College, visited Rock Island Arsenal July 20, where he gave a presentation in the Wheeler Conference Room examining the historical and contemporary perspectives of LGBTQ+ pride within society and the military.
According to LeBlanc, “Pride is a journey of events that affirms the humanity and inclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals. It is not merely parades or celebrations. Pride is a movement that will continue in light of the challenges still being faced.”
The presentation was originally set to take place June 29, in honor of LGBTQ+ Pride Month, but was postponed to July due to a scheduling conflict.
Col. Scott Kindberg, U.S. Army Sustainment Command chief of staff, provided opening remarks.
“To me it comes down to one simple task,” he said, “that we will treat everyone who is a member of our team – Soldiers, other service members, Civilian employees, contractors and family members – with dignity and respect.”
LeBlanc then began his presentation, by providing a timeline of LGBTQ+ progress within the military and society.
Prior to World War II: Anyone suspected of engaging in homosexual acts is considered to be unsuitable for the military and would be immediately discharged.
During World War II: There is a shift in how the military viewed homosexuals. Instead of focusing on Soldiers engaging in homosexual acts, the Army starts focusing on Soldiers’ sexual orientation, beginning to identify homosexuals as psychopaths.
1951: The Uniform Code of Military Justice maintains the criminalization of sodomy in Article 125.
“(a) Any person subject to this chapter who engages in unnatural carnal copulation with another person of the same or opposite sex or with an animal is guilty of sodomy. Penetration, however slight, is sufficient to complete the offense.
(b) Any person found guilty of sodomy shall be punished as court-martial may direct.”
Article 125 applies to both heterosexuals and homosexuals. For heterosexuals it is applied in instances of child sexual abuse or sexual assault, while for homosexuals it was applied in instances of child sexual abuse, sexual assault, and even consensual behavior.
1952: The American Psychiatric Association classifies homosexuality as a “sociopathic personality disturbance.”
June 28, 1969: Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City that allows drag queens, runaway and homeless youth, and dancing, is raided by the police. Thirteen people are arrested for violating the state’s gender-appropriate clothing statute. A riot breaks out and continues for five days. These days’ events are seen as a galvanizing event within the LGBTQ+ community.
1973: The APA updates their classification of homosexuals, referring to them as having a “sexual orientation disturbance.”
1975-1980: In 1975, Air Force Sgt. Leonard Matlovich provides a “coming out” letter to his superior officer. When asked what it is, Matlovich replies, “It means Brown v. The Board of Education,” hoping that his case would reach the United States Supreme Court. Matlovich is discharged and denied review. After judicial review, the Air Force is ordered to reinstate Matlovich and provide back pay because the rules were too vague.
1987: All references to homosexuality are removed from the APA.
1968-1989: In 1967, Sgt. Perry Watkins is drafted for the Vietnam War. He declares he is gay to the screening psychiatrist, but is still allowed to join because of the military’s need for Soldiers. He is also allowed to reenlist in 1971, 1974, and 1979. In 1980, Watkins’ clearance is revoked and the Army begins discharge proceedings because of his sexual orientation. Watkins sues the Army and the U.S. Court of Appeals orders that Watkins be reinstated.
December 21, 1993: The Department of Defense issues defense directive 1304.26, also known as “Don’t ask, Don’t tell,” which states that "Applicants... shall not be asked or required to reveal whether they are homosexual," while still forbidding homosexual activities.
December 18, 2010: “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is officially repealed by the U.S. Senate and homosexual individuals can openly serve in the military for the first time.
2013: Military spousal benefits are extended to include same-sex marriages.
2019: President Donald Trump implements a transgender enlistment and new treatment ban in the military, which is upheld by SCOTUS.
2021: President Joe Biden’s Administration rescinds the Trump Administration’s ban for transgender individuals.
2021: Maj. Gen. Tammy Smith is the first openly gay general officer to retire, after 35 years of service. Her wife attends the retirement ceremony. “Visibility helps people rid their minds of stereotypes held about a person or group of people,” she said.
As shown by this timeline, LGBTQ+ service members have only been able to openly serve for a little over a decade, even though the United States military was established 247 years ago.
This progress is the result of trailblazers such as Matlovich, Watkins, Smith and many more who fought for their right to love who they want to love, in order to create a better military for future generations of LGBTQ+ service members.
In LeBlanc’s closing remarks, he encouraged all LGBTQ+ people to live their truth.
“If you can be out, be out to live that authentic life,” he said. “You will change people’s perceptions about you and the community because they’ll get to know you as a human being.”