LGBTQ in the Military: A Brief History, Current Policies and Safety

The Department of Defense is committed to maintaining a strong force that reflects the diversity of the nation, while history in the military’s long development is relatively new for LGBTQ service members. They may fear being passed over or harassed for promotions or assignments. Some LGBTQ service members may still worry about living openly.

The early 1940s classified it as a mental illness, disqualifying service from lesbians and gay men. However, it wasn’t until 1982 that the military enacted a policy explicitly banning gay men and lesbians from their ranks, before which same-sex relations were cause for discharge and criminalized.

In 1993, the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy went into effect, allowing LGBTQ individuals to serve in the military while keeping their sexual orientation concealed. Members of the service would not be asked about their sexual orientation, and they would not be discharged for disclosing it. The policy was later repealed by Congress, allowing bisexual and gay individuals to serve openly.

In the military, individuals who do not identify with their biological gender can join and serve after the prohibition on transgender individuals was revoked once more in 2021, following its temporary termination in 2016. Similarly, same-sex married partners in the armed forces also had their spousal and family benefits prolonged when another obstacle was removed in 2013.

LGBTQ+ Individuals Serving in the Armed Forces

The Department of Defense recognizes the value of promoting inclusion and acceptance by taking steps that represent the force of a diverse society.

The military’s decision to welcome LGBTQ service members into its ranks is still relatively recent, considering its 245-year past. Prejudice against LGBTQ service members might persist; societal shifts require time. Being open about one’s LGBTQ identity while serving in the military can pose a challenge.

Simply by actively listening, you have the ability to assist your service member in feeling comprehended and encouraged. You can act as a sounding board for your service member and fulfill a significant function. Concealing a crucial aspect of their identity can have an impact on their overall well-being, both physically and mentally, but it is reasonable to fear potential negative consequences of living openly. Engage in a conversation with them regarding their apprehensions if this applies to your service member.

If your LGBTQ military member feels endangered

If your service member is being harassed or threatened, it is advisable for the military police or their chain of command to file a formal complaint, while also preserving any evidence, such as a menacing message. Additionally, it is important to thoroughly document the incident in written form and, if relevant, with photographs.

If a member of your military service feels that they were denied an assignment or passed up for a promotion because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, they may file a complaint with the equal opportunity office of their service branch.

Outside the installation, your service member might discover one within the community. Their installation could potentially offer an LGBTQ support organization; however, if not, it may be beneficial for them to establish a support system of like-minded LGBTQ service members if they feel secluded.

If you are outside the United States, you may use one of the calling options: 800-342-9647. Your member service counselor can connect you with a counselor. Military OneSource and the Military Family Life Counseling Program offer free, confidential non-medical counseling through your installation. You may also benefit from talking to a professional who is familiar with the military culture.

Press 1 to speak with an online chat responder or text 838255 at the Crisis Military Line. You can reach the Crisis Military Line at 988 to speak with a member of your service. If you are in crisis, the Crisis Military Line is staffed 24/7 with trained counselors to assist you.