In 1994, the U.S. adopted “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as the official federal policy on military service by lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals. The rule was discrimination in its purest form and prevented service members from being openly queer without threat of being discharged. DADT was based on the false assumption that the presence of LGBTQ+ individuals in any branch of the military would undermine the ability of people to carry out their duties. Over the course of the policy’s life, thousands of brave service members were discharged simply for who they were and whom they loved.
HRC made repealing DADT a top priority — and public sentiment showed the evolving perceptions of LGBTQ+ people serving openly in the military. By the time President Obama took office, we knew there was a coalition of supporters and elected officials ready to retire this hateful policy once and for all. Our Voices of Honor tour worked with hundreds of LGBTQ+ veterans across 50 different cities to lobby members of Congress to repeal DADT and identified more than 20,000 pro-repeal veterans. We also worked with Eric Alva, an openly gay Marine and the first person injured in the Iraq War, to share his story and speak on behalf of the thousands of LGBTQ+ service members actively fighting for our country.
Leading up to a vote on repealing DADT in the Senate Armed Services Committee, HRC mobilized across six states identified as key to passing legislation through the committee. We then expanded our efforts across the country — hiring 27 staff members on the ground nationwide — to rally support ahead of a full Senate vote. After tens of thousands of letters, emails and calls from our members and supporters, victory was achieved and DADT was repealed in full on September 20, 2011. Service members previously discharged for their LGBTQ+ status were offered re-enrollment and future recruits knew they would no longer face discrimination when trying to serve their country.
In July 2017, President Trump sent a hateful tweet that transgender individuals would no longer be able to enter the military and those currently enlisted would not be allowed to continue in their roles. This was followed by an official memorandum the next month that went into effect in January 2019 amid ongoing lawsuits. Since then, HRC has joined a lawsuit fighting back against the policy. Trump’s ban is baseless, spurious and flat out unpatriotic. HRC is continuing to fight against this ban so that all people — especially transgender individuals — can serve our country.