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Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military Paperback – June 23, 2005

5.0 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"A sober, thoroughly researched and engrossingly readable history on the subject. [Shilts's] chronicle is excellent military history, closely woven with an enthralling analysis of the changing definitions of sexuality and personal relationships in American society....[A] landmark book....Remarkable."
--New York Times Book Review

"A masterpiece of investigative reporting…Shilts has shown us the honor homosexuals have brought, and continue to bring, to the uniforms they wear and the country they serve." - Boston Globe

"Gays, we are told, would damage morale in the military. Shilts documents the fact that morale has already been eaten away by hypocrisy, contradictions, and favoritism…This book will be to gay and lesbian liberation what Betty Friedan's was to early feminism or Rachel Carson's to ecological consciousness. No fair-minded person can read Conduct Unbecoming and consider the present system defensible. - USA Today

"Gripping reading....the history of homosexual people and the movement for gay/lesbian equality in the United States can nowhere be more clearly told." - Los Angeles Times

About the Author

RANDY SHILTS, one of the first journalists to recognize the national importance of the AIDS crisis, was a national correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle for thirteen years. He is the author of The Mayor of Castro Street and And the Band Played On. He died in 1994.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 832 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (July 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312342640
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312342647
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,204,554 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By T. Washington on March 28, 2016
Format: Paperback
Now that the dust has been settled since the legal landmark ruling by SCOTUS (Obergefell v Hodges) which more or less legitimized gay marriage, it is worth recalling the long hard road to full equality in the armed forces by LGBT people(which has a suggestive similarity to the struggles by African Americans, Hispanics and native Americans) in Randy Shilts's magisterial work: "Conduct Unbecoming: Gays And Lesbians In The US Military", now reprinted from its original edition of 1994
Shilts shows, in painstaking detail, how LGBT people have been serving in America's armed forces from the War Of Independence(where an exiled European nobleman Baron Frederick von Steuben became the virtual Father Of The Continental Army), despite official disapproval of the sin of "sodomy" by military regulations beginning with the Articles Of War of the Continental era right down to the Uniform Code Of Military Justice in our own time.
Now that "DADT"( Don't Ask, Don't Tell") has been relegated to the footnotes of American history, it is worth noting how long the quest for equality and justice for LGBT people in the US armed forces has been(paralleling those of people of colour).
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Format: Paperback
For 20 years, I've worked, as a psychotherapist with active duty military & their families, as well with as vets. I recently moved my practice, and of course, I connected with a local military base. I was asked if I'd worked with GLBT. (Believe me, THAT never happened before.) I have a fair amount of GLBT experience, though much of it in the early 1990's. Since then, I've done less, as I was more recently practicing in an extremely conservative town - socially/culturally, religiously, politically. So I decided to update my general GLBT background and my more limited background with GLBT & the military.

Earlier, working in a community mental health center in another state, I was asked to do HIV/AIDS counseling. Randy Shilts, an investigative journalist, was, of course, the author of And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic, 20th-Anniversary Edition, the best-selling history of the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic. I read his book then as a basic orientation, and I found it well-written and engaging in an awful way - staggering tragedy and senselessness, with fear, ignorance, hate. So, too, is "Conduct Unbecoming".

Re-grounding in GLBT history, I started with Bryne Fone's Homophobia: A History (see my review), which pretty well stops with Stonewall in 1969. Shilts's book, which covers the Vietnam War up to 1990 - just before Clinton & Don't Ask/Don't Tell -- overlaps some, with Fone, but in a very different style. As with "And the Band", "Conduct Unbecoming" is deeply researched.
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Shilts uses his investigative journalism background to craft a compelling argument for the free service of all of those who volunteer to serve. He gives a window into the feelings and motivations of gays in the military and those who serve with them. The progression of the events and documentation of changes in attitude seem to lead toward a future where gays can serve openly. I found the parallels drawn between the situation of gay soldiers now and the situation of black soldiers before the 1950's to be especially convincing.
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