Press

Judge Blocks Navy Discharge; Court Rules Gay Sailor Can Serve

Date: 
January 30, 1998

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) hailed a U.S. District Court Judge's decision to make permanent the injunction blocking the discharge of U.S. Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Timothy R. McVeigh. McVeigh faced dismissal after an America Online profile containing the word "gay" was traced to him by the Navy. The Navy may appeal the injunction or offer McVeigh early retirement with benefits. He has been assigned to demeaning, low-level duties since the case first came to light.

In handing down his decision, District Judge Stanley Sporkin said the Navy violated the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy when it "impermissibly embarked on a search and 'outing' mission" to determine whether or not McVeigh is gay. The Judge said "suggestions of sexual orientation in a private anonymous email account did not give the Navy sufficient reason to investigate to determine whether to commence discharge proceedings." The case could also have ramifications beyond the military because Sporkin further ruled that the Navy violated the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act by obtaining confidential information from AOL without a court order or warrant.

The 1993 "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy is the current incarnation of the military's 50-year prohibition on gay, lesbian, and bisexual people serving in the U.S. armed forces. The original policy stated that homosexuality was incompatible with military service. It was replaced by "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" which was intended to allow servicemembers to serve as long as they did not discuss their sexual orientation.

"The firestorm surrounding 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' continues with this case as the Navy has violated not only federal privacy statues, but also the flawed policy itself in order to dismiss McVeigh," said Kerry Lobel, NGLTF Executive Director. "This case again proves that 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' should be repealed. By requiring servicemembers to remain in the closet, this proves the only thing incompatible with military service is the truth."

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The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.