What is the Don't Ask Don't Tell Policy?

Mary McMahon

The “Don't Ask Don't Tell” policy is an American law which effectively prohibits people who are openly non-heterosexual from serving in the military. While the law specifically mentions homosexuals, bisexuals, asexuals, and people with other sexual orientations are often caught up in it as well, as are people with non-conventional lifestyles, such as people who are openly polyamorous or "kinky." The policy has attracted a great deal of public commentary from a variety of communities, ranging from conservatives who want to ban homosexuals from serving altogether to gays and lesbians who would like to enlist and remain open about their sexual identity.

Women were barred from serving in the U.S. military until 1948.
Women were barred from serving in the U.S. military until 1948.

Under the terms of the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, homosexuals can serve in the military as long as they remain quiet about their sexual orientation, and questions about sexual orientation are forbidden. Disclosures of orientation, references to homosexual partners, public support of gay and lesbian causes, and other related behaviors can be grounds for discharge from the military. In the 15 years since the law was passed in 1993, almost 13,000 Americans were discharged from the military due to violations of the Don't Ask Don't Tell rule.

Under the terms of the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, homosexuals could have served in the military as long as they remain quiet about their sexual orientation.
Under the terms of the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, homosexuals could have served in the military as long as they remain quiet about their sexual orientation.

Get started

Want to automatically save money while you shop online?

Join 3 million Wikibuy users who have found 
$70 million in savings over the last year.

Wikibuy compensates us when you install Wikibuy using the links we provided.

The law was designed as a compromise between conservatives and President Bill Clinton, who had pledged to support gays and lesbians who wanted to serve. As long as non-heterosexuals in the military do not disclose their sexual orientations, either directly or through references, they cannot be investigated and discharged. This was viewed as a significant improvement over previous military policies, which allowed for investigations of suspected homosexuals.

Supporters of the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy argue that open homosexuals could have a negative impact on morale, unit cohesion, and discipline. People who are opposed to the policy believe that it constitutes discrimination, and that being forced to remain silent about one's sexual orientation amounts to oppression. Non-heterosexuals who have left the military have cited Don't Ask, Don't Tell as a source of extreme stress and misery. Many advocates point out that women were barred from serving in the military until 1948 with many of the same arguments, and that these arguments turned out to be specious once women were allowed into the military.

In 2008, serious review of Don't Ask Don't Tell began in Congress, sparked by growing public interest in the policy, commentary from activists, and statements by candidates in the Presidential election. Some congresspeople felt that the policy was outdated, and that the ban on serving while openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, or otherwise should be struck down.

You might also Like

Discussion Comments


I think it's interesting that this policy was used against people who are supposedly "kinky" or whatever. Now, I don't think being kinky should make someone ineligible for the military.

However, I do think that it would be a matter of good taste to keep your kinkiness to yourself. It's sad that they even had to legislate something like that!


@JessicaLynn - I think it's cool that your boyfriend is an open-minded person. However, I think that having an openly homosexual unit member could definitely disrupt the bonds of the unit.

Think about how many people's families disown them for being gay? I don't think it's right, but it happens all the time. If people can disown their own family for being gay, what's to stop someone who isn't even blood related to the person from getting upset?


I'm not a member of the military, but my boyfriend was in the Army Reserves for 7 years. I asked him quite awhile ago if he felt like having openly homosexual service-members would hurt morale. I've never supported don't ask don't tell, but I'm also not in the military.

Anyway, my boyfriend didn't think there would be a problem with getting rid of don't ask don't tell. He told me that the bonds you form with your unit while you're in the service that it would really take a lot to disrupt that bond. My boyfriend is a pretty open-minded guy anyway, but I think what he said made a lot of sense.


@jholcomb - It is good to hear that the Don't Ask and Don't Tell policy has finally bitten the dust. I think that allowing people to just be who they are is the way we should have done things all along.

I can only hope that there won't be an uprising in violence in the military when those who are gay or lesbian decide to speak more openly, instead of hiding who they are.

As much as I wish that everyone would just get along, and not let things like sexual orientation or race, color their views, I feel like the period after the repeal may be a rocky one.


I really feel that the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy has served its term. I would hope that most people in the military would be mature enough to work alongside someone with a different sexual orientation than them.

Our country is incredibly diverse, and until our military reflects everyone it is protecting, I don't think that we are really living in a equal society. Besides, I am not really sure what one's sexual orientation has to do with people protecting our country. Why this is even still an issue continues to surprise me. People should be able to do their jobs without needing to fit into some ideal soldier mold.


I would say that we should get rid of this policy if it really discriminated against gays, but I don't think it does. People in the military are not allowed to engage in sexual relations with each other, no matter what their preferences are. So this policy actually applies to everyone in the military in my view, not just gays.

It's just not the place where sexual orientations should be the subject.


As of September 20, 2011, Don't Ask, Don't Tell is a thing of the past! For better or worse, now we'll see what happens. Under DADT, *more* people were discharged from the military for homosexuality than before - a lot more. Including people that we really need, like Arabic language experts.

People said that black servicemen would need to be segregated in their own units because integration was a threat to unit cohesion. People got over it. Hopefully they will get over this, too.


@turkay1-- I don't agree with you. Non-heterosexuals serve their country just as successfully as heterosexuals do.

If those serving in the military are ridiculed or harassed for any reason, some action would need to be take to prevent that from happening. That is not a good enough reason to completely ignore the rights of gays and lesbians who wish to serve.

What you are suggesting is to ignore the problem, rather than going to the root cause and solving it. If expressing sexual preferences in the military is a problem because it would lead to harassment and violence among servicemen and women, there is clearly a problem there. It means that our military needs to work on the relations, cooperation and professionalism of its members.

I feel that the Don't Ask and Don't Tell Policy is giving us an excuse to ignore this problem. The ban needs to be struck down so that we can start to resolve some of these issues.


I support the Don't Ask and Don't Tell policy in the military because I think it's the best way to protect the rights of both heterosexuals and non-heterosexuals who are serving their country.

I understand that non-heterosexuals might feel some pressure because they are not allowed to express their sexual preferences. But if they did express them, they might face humiliation and harassment by their fellow service men and women because of these preferences. At the same time, some servicemen and women might not feel comfortable serving with men and women who have different sexual preferences.

So I think it's in the best interest of everyone in the military to follow this policy. I do think that sexual preferences should not make any difference for people who want to serve, and this policy actually helps do that by not allowing sexual preferences to be discussed and expressed.

Post your comments
Forgot password?