*originally posted October 14, 2009
The Blue Discharge was neither honorable nor dishonorable, though it was the discharge of choice for commanders seeking to remove homosexual service members, and many times, African-Americans, from the ranks. Also known as the "blue ticket', this type of discharge began in the United States in 1916. Before then, the military had a long-standing policy that service members found to be homosexual or to have engaged in homosexual conduct were to be court-martialed for sodomy, imprisoned and dishonorably discharged.
However, with the onset of World War II, and the need for more troops, it was deemed impractical to convene court-martial boards, and commanders began issuing administrative discharges instead.
If you were openly gay, or even suspected of being gay, in the military, you were committed to military hospitals, examined by psychiatrists and then given the Blue Discharge papers. It is unknown exactly how many gay and lesbian servicemembers were given these types of discharges, but figures released by the Army in 1946 estimate that anywhere from 49,000 to 68,000 blue discharges were issued. Since there is no reason given for the blue discharge it remains unclear exactly how many were given to gay men and lesbians.
The psychiatrists who created and implemented the screening that excluded gay men and women from military service initially supported the blue discharges. However, when it became apparent that these men and women faced substantial discrimination upon returning to America, they urged the military to discontinue the practice. In fact, William C. Menninger, Director of the Psychiatry Consultants Division for the Surgeon General of the United States Army from 1944 to 1946, worked throughout his tenure to try to persuade the military to issue honorable discharges to gay servicemembers who had not committed any crimes while in-service.
With so much attention focused on the disparity to which blue-ticket veterans were subjected--they were often denied jobs and housing, and maybe faced being disowned by their families, since everyone knew what a blue discharge meant--the House Committee on Military Affairs convened a special committee. Their report--"Blue Discharges"--was issued in January 1946 and expressed amazement that anyone with a blue discharge would risk further stigmatization by speaking out against the discrimination:
"It should be borne in mind that even a moderate amount of complaint in a matter of this sort is significant. For a person to make such a complaint in his own case implies that he feels a sense of injustice so great that he is willing to risk publicizing the stigma of having been discharged from the Army under circumstances which savor of disgrace. For each complainant there are many more who feel the same sense of injustice but prefer to bury their hurt in as much oblivion as possible."
The committee found that the effects of a blue discharge "differ little from those of a dishonorable discharge...the discharged man finds it difficult to get or keep a job. The suspicion of society is aroused against him, all the worse in some ways for carrying an atmosphere of mystery." The committee made a number of recommendations for reforming the discharge system. It recommended:
The committee also recommended changing the discharge classification system to consist of four classifications: honorable; "under honorable conditions" which would replace the blue discharge; general, to cover misconduct discharges; and dishonorable.
Still, despite the findings of Congress, the Veterans Administration continued to discriminate against gay blue-tickets, renewing its 1945 directive in 1946 and again in 1949. Blue discharges were not discontinued until July 1947, with discharges that would formerly have been blue now falling under one of two new headings, general and undesirable.
But this didn't apply to LGBT servicemembers. While they no longer suffered the indignities attributed to a Blue Discharge, they were also not eligible for a General Discharge, considered to be under honorable conditions. Servicemembers, found to be homosexual but who did not commit any homosexual acts while in-service, would receive an undesirable discharge. Those who were found guilty of engaging in homosexual conduct were dishonorably discharged.
By the 1970s, a gay servicemember who had not committed any homosexual acts while in-service would, in theory, receive a general discharge, while those found to have engaged in homosexual conduct would receive undesirable discharges. However, the reality remained that gay servicemembers received a disproportionate percentage of undesirable discharges issued.
This was the status quo until replaced in 1993 by the law commonly known as Don't Ask, Don't Tell. We are still being told to keep quiet or face discharge simply for being gay, but these days, we are "allowed" the honor of a General Discharge.
Whoever said "We've come a long way" never took the short trip from Blue Tickets to DADT.
The march goes on ... even with the death of DADT in 2013.
|On This Day In LGBT History|
October 14, 1979 – The first March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights was held, attracting 50,000-100,000 participants.
October 14, 1982 – Scott Thorson filed a palimony suit against Liberace, requesting $113 million. He would later settle for $95,000 and a Rolls Royce.
October 14, 1987 – The US Congress voted in favor of banning federal funding for AIDS education organizations that “promote homosexuality.”
October 14, 1993 – Nikola Trumbo, daughter of writer Dalton Trumbo, came out.
October 14, 1999 – California state senator Pete Knight, who sponsored a ballot initiative banning same sex marriages in California, was criticized in the Los Angeles Times by his gay son. He questioned his father’s defense of family values because his father rejected him when he came out.