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PHOTO ESSAY

The Obama Presidency

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Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal

President Obama signs the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 (Chuck Kennedy/Official White House Photo)

Although Obama was personally committed to upholding the rights of lesbian, gay, and transgender Americans, his administration moved cautiously—some said too cautiously—in using the presidential "bully pulpit" to advance those rights. In part this was tactical—Bill Clinton's 2009 effort to end the US ban on gay, lesbian, and bisexual military personnel was fiercely resisted by the military and in Congress and stymied Clinton's other early initiatives, such as health care. The resulting compromise was December 1993's Defense Directive 1304.26, most commonly known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," (DADT), which still banned openly LGBT personnel from military service, but directed that applicants not to be asked about their sexual orientation. From the beginning of DADT civil rights organizations including OutServe, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Log Cabin Republicans, and the Human Rights Campaign, fought for repeal, but it would remain in operation for 18 years. President Obama finally made ending the ban a priority in his 2010 State of the Union Address, but faced strong opposition in Congress, including filibusters led by Senator John McCain (R-AZ). On December 18, 2010, the Senate joined the House in passing the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act, which the President signed four days later. Although openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual Americans could now serve their nation, the repeal did not cover transgender personnel. On June 30, 2016, the Obama administration ended that ban as well, a decision affecting as many as 15,000 active and reserve trans military personnel. The DADT repeal also helped lay the groundwork for Obama's eventual journey from support of only civil unions during his first run for the presidency to full marriage equality for gays and lesbians during his second campaign in May 2012.

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