Exhibit Overview:

Debates about the place of GLBT people in American society have become a constant feature of public discourse. Though much of the focus of recent debates has been on the right to marry, the struggle of GLBT people to serve openly in the United States military has a long and important history. The specific exclusion of GLBT people from service -- as opposed to laws banning same-sex behavior -- was incorporated into the military's codes during WWII. Since the 1950s GLBT activists and veterans have struggled to overturn these discriminatory policies. The “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue” policy, implemented as a political compromise in 1993, legislated the silence of GLBT soldiers on active duty and in the reserves. This institutionalized silence has led to a collective amnesia about the patriotic service and courageous sacrifices of GLBT troops.


Lesbian veterans leading a protest march in Washington, DC in 1993. Photo courtesy of Cathy Cade.

The right to serve is a foundational civil right, one that can lay the groundwork for future political and social victories. If Americans forget that GLBT people have served in the military, then the nation is much less likely to view us as full citizens, deserving of civil rights and equal protection of the law. Lifting the ban will give GLBT service personnel the recognition and honor they deserve. It will extend the nation's gratitude to the hundreds of thousands of gay veterans who have fought in every major American conflict since World War II, and it will bring us closer to the day when we value the contributions of all American citizens and soldiers.

Out Ranks includes many extraordinary stories, but we hope that visitors will come to realize that they are stories told by ordinary Americans, men and women who simply did their duty and served their country.