Perry Watkins (1949 - March 17, 1996) was an African-American, gay man and one of the first soldiers to have some success in challenging the ban against homosexuals in the United States Military. [1]

Perry Watkins was born in Missouri in 1949. The United States Army drafted him in 1968. During his entrance examination, he stated that he was homosexual when military officials asked him, yet they still admitted him. Disproving ideas that openly gay soldiers would be threatened by homophobic peers, Watkins stated that everyone on the base knew that he was gay. He dressed in drag (under the name Simone), and the Army publicized it rather than castigating him for it. [2] When he challenged the military's anti-gay ban, the 9th Circuit court decided in his favor, in Watkins v. United State Army, 875 F.2d 699 (1989).

During the early 1990s, when gay rights groups put special energy into lifting the ban, White American, gender-conforming soldiers such as Joseph Steffan and Margarethe Cammemeyer were featured. This was a purposeful move to suggest that "gay soldiers are just like everyone else." However, some progressives opined that it was racist not to feature Perry Watkins in this fight. On the defense, Tom Stoddard, a white gay rights activist, said Watkins would have to take out his nose ring and organizations feared that he would label them racist for demanding the removal.

In the early 1990s, the Don't ask, don't tell policy for gays in the military was enacted during the presidency of Bill Clinton. According to One More River to Cross by Keith Boykin, Perry Watkins felt betrayed by gay rights leaders of all races for not seeking his assistance. He later died of AIDS complications.

His life and views have been detailed in the aforementioned Boykin book, Conduct Unbecoming by Randy Shilts, and in My Country, My Right to Serve, by Mary Ann Humphrey. The law school at the University of Michigan has named a scholarship in his honor. [3]

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