Ask and Tell

Gay and Lesbian Veterans Speak Out

By Steve Estes

296 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 16 illus., appends., notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5955-1
    Published: February 2009
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-8985-5
    Published: November 2009
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8110-6
    Published: November 2009

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"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was the directive of President Clinton's 1993 military policy regarding gay and lesbian soldiers. This official silence continued a collective amnesia about the patriotic service and courageous sacrifices of homosexual troops. Ask and Tell recovers these lost voices, offering a rich chronicle of the history of gay and lesbian service in the U.S. military from World War II to the Iraq War.

Drawing on more than 50 interviews with gay and lesbian veterans, Steve Estes charts the evolution of policy toward homosexuals in the military over the past 65 years, uncovering the ways that silence about sexuality and military service has affected the identities of gay veterans. These veteran voices--harrowing, heroic, and on the record--reveal the extraordinary stories of ordinary Americans, men and women who simply did their duty and served their country in the face of homophobia, prejudice, and enemy fire. Far from undermining national security, unit cohesion, or troop morale, Estes demonstrates, these veterans strengthened the U.S. military in times of war and peace. He also examines challenges to the ban on homosexual service, placing them in the context of the wider movement for gay rights and gay liberation. Ask and Tell is an important compilation of unheard voices, offering Americans a new understanding of the value of all the men and women who serve and protect them.

About the Author

Steve Estes is associate professor of history at Sonoma State University. He is author of I Am a Man!: Race, Manhood, and the Civil Rights Movement (UNC Press).
For more information about Steve Estes, visit the Author Page.


"An indispensable document."--Women: A Cultural Review

"This essential oral history collection tells the stories we were never meant to hear and ultimately calls for an end to one of America's bastions of homophobia."--Curve

"An excellent history of both gay and lesbian life and the gay rights movement. . . . These narratives tell volumes about the experiences of gay servicemen and women, and powerfully illustrate how patriotism and commitment to service cut across gender and sexuality. The narratives will make important contributions to classroom discussions in sexuality, sociology, gender studies, and military history. Highly recommended."--Choice

"Ask and Tell helps us to reclaim the humanity of gay people in the military--to see their stories in all their textured, varied, and contradictory detail. . . . What Estes has done, in short, is to undertake a work of social and historical reconstruction. He distills complex stories of human experience, rendering them approachable without attempting to draw out of them the seamlessness of a legal complaint or the fluency of a novel. Right now, such unembellished reconstruction is just what we need."--The International History Review

"Whether one believes the military should lift its ban on open confession of homosexuality or not, it is hard to argue with Estes that 'at the very least, this volume documents courage that should not be forgotten.' Estes's work is a welcome addition to the debate over homosexuals in the military and an appreciable addition to an all-too-elided aspect of military history."--Military Review

"A deeper understanding emerges of military culture and the way 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' runs counter to the military's core values. [Estes's interviewees] take Senator Sam Nunn's argument--that the cramped living conditions of military life preclude the integration of gay and straight troops--and turn it on its head."--The Journal of American History