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social sciences

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Military Culture: United States  
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It is widely believed that lesbians are disproportionately represented in the military. Whether they are or not, they were certainly disproportionately discharged from the military under DADT. For example, in 1999, women comprised 14% of the military, but accounted for 31% of the discharges under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. From 1994 to 2000, women have ranged from 12% to 15% of the forces, but have accounted for 21% to 31% of the gay discharges. During those seven years, on average, women comprised 13.6% of the military but were 25.9% of the gay discharges.

Military Demographics

In the past thirty years, increasing numbers of military personnel have come to identify as Republican, with a disproportionate number of its officers coming from the South. The end of conscription has also meant that personnel serve for longer periods of time, resulting in a professional military that has become more insular over the years.

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In spite of the conservative trends in military demographics, in the past ten years service members' attitudes towards gay and lesbian service members have grown slowly more tolerant. In 1993, Laura Miller surveyed almost 2,000 U. S. Army soldiers and found that 67% of the male soldiers and 32% of the females "strongly opposed" allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the U. S. military.

Yet this strong sentiment against homosexuality has not remained consistent over time. In 1998, the percentage of U. S. Army men who "strongly opposed" allowing gays and lesbians in the military dropped to 36%, while the percentage of Army women "strongly opposed" fell to 16%.

Other surveys of military personnel bear out this shift in attitudes about homosexuality. Between 1994 and 1999, the percentage of U. S. Navy officers who felt "uncomfortable in the presence of homosexuals" decreased from 57.8% to 36.4%. A survey measuring male Marines' attitudes towards homosexuals in 1999 found that on a scale of 0 to 100, the average score was 47.52, meaning that indifference rather than extreme like or dislike characterizes their attitudes toward gay men and lesbians.


Even as tolerance for gays and lesbians in the military has grown within the military, it remains a place in which harassment of gays and lesbians is unofficially condoned. Anti-gay hatred has even motivated murder.

For example, in July 1999, Private First Class Barry Winchell was attacked and beaten with a baseball bat while he slept in his barracks at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, because his attackers believed him to have been gay. He died the next day. PFC Winchell's murder was the culmination of months of harassment, which many peers and commanders witnessed but did nothing to stop. His murder illustrates the culture of and harassment that characterized the environment at Fort Campbell.

PFC Winchell's murder may be an extreme manifestation of anti-gay harassment, but harassment based on real or perceived sexual orientation is hardly rare in the military. A recent study in which 71,570 active duty service members from all branches of the military were surveyed found that 38% of people experienced or witnessed harassment based on perceived sexual orientation in the twelve months prior to the survey.


With regard to homosexuality, U. S. military culture appears to be deeply conflicted. Even though studies that measure attitudes have shown a decrease in anti-gay sentiment, the actions and observations of service members clearly tell a more complex story, one that confirms the homophobic and violent reputation of the U. S. military culture.

Despite this reputation, however, gay men and lesbians have served throughout the history of the U. S. military and continue to do so. Many have risen in the ranks and achieved distinguished careers in the military. Like their heterosexual counterparts they have served for any number of reasons, including patriotism, personal growth, and travel and educational opportunities. Considering the obstacles and dangers that they face in the military, gay men and women committed to a career in the service must exhibit an intense determination.

However, it needs to be observed that in military culture, is rife. Despite the homophobia frequently encouraged in the military, the same-sex emotional bonding and close physical contact are themselves important facets of military life that attract both homosexuals and heterosexuals. It is not accidental that soldiers and sailors and their uniforms occupy an important position in the fantasy lives of many gay men.

With the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the military has an opportunity to integrate openly gay men and women into its ranks in a way that may help to lessen its reputation for homophobia.

Geoffrey W. Bateman

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social sciences >> Overview:  Military Culture: European

Attitudes toward gay and lesbian personnel in European militaries vary widely, from the acceptance of the Dutch to the laissez-faire policy of the French to the rejection of the Greek and Turkish forces.

arts >> Overview:  Subjects of the Visual Arts: Sailors and Soldiers

Soldiers and sailors constitute a long-standing presence in gay male visual culture.

social sciences >> Ben-Shalom, Miriam

Long active in the glbtq community, Miriam Ben-Shalom was the first gay or lesbian servicemember to be reinstated to her position in the United States military after being discharged for her sexual orientation.

social sciences >> Cammermeyer, Margarethe

The highest-ranking official in the United States military to acknowledge her homosexuality while in the service, Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer served a number of years in the Washington State National Guard as an open lesbian.

social sciences >> Don't Ask, Don't Tell

The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, in effect from 1993 until 2011, was a compromise intended to end discrimination against gay men and lesbians in the U. S. military, but it failed to halt discharges based solely on sexual orientation.

social sciences >> Matlovich, Leonard P., Jr.

By challenging the United States Air Force's ban and gay and lesbian service members, Leonard P. Matlovich, Jr. became one of the glbtq community's most visible activists in the 1970s.


Belkin, Aaron, and Geoffrey Bateman, eds. Don't Ask, Don't Tell: Debating the Gay Ban in the Military. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2003.

Bérubé, Allan. Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two. New York: Penguin, 1990.

Bicknell, John W., Jr. Study of Naval Officers' Attitudes toward Homosexuals in the Military. Monterey, Calif.: Naval Postgraduate School, 2000.

Center for Strategic and International Studies. American Military Culture in the Twenty-First Century. Washington, D. C.: CSIS Press, 2000.

Estrada, Armando X., and David J. Weiss. "Attitudes of Military Personnel Toward Homosexuals." Journal of Homosexuality 37 (1999): 83-97.

Evans, Rhonda. "U. S. Military Policies Concerning Homosexuals: Development, Implementation, Outcomes." Santa Barbara, Calif.: Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military, 2001.

Herek, Gregory M., Jared B. Jobes, and Ralph M. Carney, eds. Out in Force: Sexual Orientation and the Military. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Katzenstein, Mary Fainsod, and Judith Reppy, eds. Beyond Zero Tolerance: Discrimination in Military Culture. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999.

Kier, Elizabeth. "Rights and Fights: Sexual Orientation and Military Effectiveness." International Security 24 (1999): 194-201.

Meyer, Leisa D. Creating GI Jane: Sexuality and Power in the Women's Army Corps During World War II. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

Miller, Laura L. "Fighting for a Just Cause: Soldiers' Views on Gays in the Military." Gays and Lesbians in the Military: Issues, Concerns, and Contrasts. Wilbur J. Scott and Sandra Carson Stanley, eds. New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1994. 69-86.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. Conduct Unbecoming: The Eighth Annual Report on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue, Don't Harass." New York: Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, 2002.

Shilts, Randy. Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U. S. Military. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993.


    Citation Information
    Author: Bateman, Geoffrey W.  
    Entry Title: Military Culture: United States  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated September 22, 2011  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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