Afghanistan and Iraq Introduction (1990s-2000s):

Behind the official ban on open gay and lesbian military service lies a policy that has been continually reconsidered and revised. The passage of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 1993 was simply the most public stage of this evolution. For all Americans, and especially for Americans troops, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, were a watershed moment. Military personnel understood that their lives and their careers had a new purpose. Within two years, American forces would be on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq. Among those forces, of course, were gay and lesbian service personnel who were now allowed to serve as long as they did so in silence.

Running for president in 1992, Bill Clinton proposed lifting the ban. A firestorm of controversy exploded around the issue once he was elected. Clinton’s promise to lift the ban raised the hopes of GLBT activists that change was coming.
GLBT veterans and activists held a march on Washington in 1993 to urge Congress and the president to lift the ban entirely. (Photo courtesy of Cathy Cade.)
As a political compromise, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell allowed gays and lesbians to serve as long as they said nothing or did nothing to indicate to their superior officers that they were homosexual, codifying what had been a tacit policy for decades, especially during wartime. Most gay veterans, activists, and active duty service personnel felt betrayed. (Clipping from GLBT Historical Society periodicals collection.)
Steve Clark Hall was a nuclear submarine commander in 1992 and ‘93 when Clinton promised to lift the ban. He prepared his crew for a more tolerant and enlightened policy on openly gay service personnel, but Don't Ask Don't Tell did not prove to be such a policy. (Materials courtesy of Steve Clark Hall.)
Gay papers and the mainstream media blasted the hypocrisy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Political cartoonists working in the mid-1990s had a field day lampooning the policy. (Clipping from the GLBT Historical Society collections.)
Brutally beaten to death in his sleep on July 4, 1999, Barry Winchell’s murder forced the Pentagon to add “Don’t Harass” to it’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
Brian Hughes was in army Ranger training on September 11, 2001, and later joined the fighting in Afghanistan. In 2003 he was part of the elite, Special Forces team sent to rescue American POWs, including Private Jessica Lynch, held in Iraq. After leaving the military in 2004, Brian came out publicly to lobby against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. (Photo courtesy of Brian Hughes.)
An Ohio native, Robert Stout joined the army to see the world. He saw much of Iraq from the top of this humvee. He was wounded in an ambush in 2004 and awarded the Purple Heart before going back to Iraq to finish his tour of duty. After a promotion to sergeant, Robert had a new set of priorities: first, make sure that his guys made it home, and second, he was no longer going to hide the fact that he was gay. (Photo courtesy of Robert Stout.)
Bleu Copas is one of more than foreign language specialists proficient in Arabic who have been discharged since the passage of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. (Photo from Earl Neikirk / AP file.)
The first American wounded in the Iraq War, Marine Staff Sergeant Eric Alva went on record in 2007 as a gay veteran opposed to Don't Ask, Don't Tell. (Photo from the AP file.)