Perry Watkins

Perry Watkins

Cold War


Perry Watkins served fifteen years in the Army as an openly gay man. Despite this, in 1980, the Army revoked his security clearance and had him discharged because he was gay, a discharge he successfully fought in court.



Image Source: Lina Pallotta, Photograph of Perry Watkins (left) and Miriam Ben-Shalom at a rally in Washington, D.C., 1993, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries, Archives and Special Collections

Photograph of Watkins (left) and Miriam Ben-Shalom at a 1993 rally in Washington, DC.

Perry Watkins’s Biography

Primary Source Excerpts

In 1980, the Army revoked Watkins’s security clearance and discharged him because of his sexual orientation. In an excerpt from a 1989 oral history conducted by Eric Marcus, Watkins tells the story of being discharged. Another excerpt from Perry’s obituary details the court victory allowing him to re-enlist.

Discharge from the Army

In 1980 the Army had told me they were going to revoke my security clearance because I was gay. This is the fourth time the Army is telling me this. Every other time, what the Army did was say, “We’re going to revoke your security clearance because you’re gay.” I said fine. They’d take it, they’d send off a letter to the security people at Fort Meade, Maryland. A month later, they’d send a letter back, and they’d come back and say, “Never mind. You’re an admitted homosexual, so you’re not a security risk. Therefore, we’re not going to revoke your clearance.” This happened three times. The fourth time they said this, I said, “I’m tired of this … Either give me my clearance or get off my back.” Well when we filed in court to have my security clearance reinstated, the Army immediately jumped up and said, “Well, he can’t be in the Army anyway, because he’s gay.” Suddenly, we’re gonna’ change the rules of the game.

- Perry Watkins

Eric Marcus, interview with Perry Watkins, November 19, 1989, in Making Gay History: The Podcast

Victory in court

In 1989, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco, voting 7 to 4, ordered the Army to allow Mr. Watkins to re-enlist. The court did not tackle the broad question of whether homosexuals ought to be permitted to serve but rather cited the fact that Mr. Watkins had been permitted to re-enlist. Judge Harry Pregerson said the court’s ruling would “simply require the Army to continue to do what it has repeatedly done for 14 years with only positive results: re-enlist a single soldier with an exceptionally outstanding military record.”

- New York Times obituary for Perry Watkins, March 21, 1996