Despite the involvement of many veterans in the growing movement for equality following World War II, military targeting of LGBTQIA+ servicemembers grew more severe with detentions, investigations, and “Undesirable” discharges. In 1993, the policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” permitted gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals to serve, but only if their identity remained secret. However, the policy did not stop phobic and harassing behaviors within the Armed Forces.
Advocacy by LGBTQIA+ veterans and the increasing visibility of unjust discharges of servicemembers amid the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq after September 11, 2001 changed public perceptions and increased pressure on lawmakers to rescind discriminatory policies. In December 2010, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was signed, and the policy officially ended on September 20, 2011, permitting the open service of lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals thereafter.
Transgender individuals remained barred from serving openly until 2016, where they were permitted open service during a brief period before the ban on transgender service went back into effect on April 12, 2019. The ban remained in place until it was reversed by executive order on January 25, 2021. As of today, individuals who identify or present as intersex and nonbinary are largely disqualified from military service by medical regulations that do not reflect the actual capabilities and fitness of these individuals to serve.
The service of LGBTQIA+ individuals in the United States Armed Forces is still at times politically contentious and polarizing, despite their profound dedication, bravery, and sacrifices as servicemembers.