Don't Ask, Don't Tell: Employment Discrimination as a Means for Social Cleansing

32 Pages Posted: 16 Oct 2012 Last revised: 6 Jun 2015

See all articles by E. Gary Spitko

E. Gary Spitko

Santa Clara University - School of Law

Date Written: October 15, 2012


In December 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010,” which provided for repeal of the policy prohibiting gay people from serving openly in the military, after consideration of a Department of Defense review on the implementation of such a repeal. This article examines the history of the exclusion of openly gay people from military service in the United States from the early twentieth century up until the time of the repeal. The author concludes from this review that the dominant purpose of the military’s exclusion of openly gay people was to preserve the masculine identities of the military and its heterosexual servicemen. At the same time, the exclusion also served as a powerful means to perpetuate the association of gay men with effeminacy. Thus, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” should be seen as a prime example of employment discrimination utilized as a means for “social cleansing.” The author uses the term “social cleansing” to refer generally to the intentional exclusion of a disfavored group from an otherwise shared or public social space defined by or associated with certain personal qualities and values. When employment discrimination is used as a means for social cleansing, it serves to define the qualities and values that society attaches to the dominant socially cleansing group or its institutions as well as the disfavored group that is being cleansed. The article concludes by examining the significance of the repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" in light of the conclusion that the policy functioned as a means for social cleansing.”

Suggested Citation

Spitko, E. Gary, Don't Ask, Don't Tell: Employment Discrimination as a Means for Social Cleansing (October 15, 2012). 16 Employee Rights and Employment Policy Journal 179-209 (2012). Available at SSRN:

E. Gary Spitko (Contact Author)

Santa Clara University - School of Law ( email )

500 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA 95053
United States
408-551-1771 (Phone)


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