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L1991.03 The Perry Watkins Papers
L1991.03  
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Description
Perry James Henry Watkins was the only openly gay person discharged from the U.S. Army with full honors after serving for nearly two decades. Watkins fought for this distinction, suing the Army after being forced out in 1979 because of his sexual orientation. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court.
Background
Perry James Henry Watkins was the only openly gay person discharged from the U.S. Army with full honors after serving for nearly two decades. Watkins fought for this distinction, suing the Army after being forced out in 1979 because of his sexual orientation. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court. In 1967, during the Vietnam War, Watkins received his draft summons. He marked “yes” on his inductee questionnaire when asked about “homosexual tendencies.” The Army responded by sending him to a psychiatrist who interrogated Watkins about his sexuality but also asked if Watkins had a problem serving his country. Watkins answered, “No problem.” Consequently, his military career as an openly gay man began in May 1968. Several times in those early years he tried to leave the military due to his sexual orientation after hearing that the Army dismissed several white gay peers for that reason. The military, however, denied Watkins’ requests. He surmised that the primary reason for this differential treatment was his race. After his first two years of service Watkins re-enlisted because he needed financial aid for college. On his re-enlistment questionnaire, he again marked “yes” to having homosexual tendencies. Watkins served twice in Korea in the early 1970s. During this period, he signed up to entertain the troops using his female impersonator role, Simone, and performed in Army clubs in Germany and throughout Europe. Watkins received several commendations during his years of service. In 1975, without warning, Watkins’ commanding officer started proceedings to discharge him. A hearing was held in October of that year beginning a four year long administrative process to remove him. Watkins, however, now fought these charges. In 1979, his military-clearance renewal was rejected due to his gay status. Two years later he sued the Army, which responded by discharging him for being gay. That the Army had earlier accepted Watkins’s sexual orientation early in his career and then later removed him for it, became the center of his nine-year legal challenge, which was decided in 1990 by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court rejected the Army’s argument and ordered him to be reinstated with back pay, retirement benefits, and retroactive promotion to Sergeant First Class. Watkins was then honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in 1990.
Extent
.5 linear feet
Restrictions
Availability
Open for research