George Chauncey: Last Ban Standing

Roundup: Historians' Take

[George Chauncey is a history professor at Yale.]

THE debate leading up to the Senate vote on Saturday to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy has focused primarily on developments in the 17 years since its inception under President Bill Clinton.

But in fact the exclusion of gays and lesbians from the military has been a crucial issue for the gay movement for 65 years — in part because, during the postwar decades, it served as a model for anti-homosexual discrimination throughout the government and private sector.

In fact, the first American gay political organization to last more than a few months was founded by veterans at the end of World War II to protest a policy the military had adopted during the war: it now excluded them as a group from service (instead of prosecuting individual men for homosexual behavior). It was the first time the federal government classified and discriminated against Americans on the basis of their identity as homosexuals....

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