1948 - 1996

When Perry J. Watkins was drafted in 1968 he came out as a gay man and proceeded to serve openly in the military. He received an honorable discharge when his first enlistment expired in 1970. In 1971, he reenlisted for a second three-year term, at which time the Army judged him to be "eligible for reentry on active duty." In 1974 and 1979, the Army accepted Watkins' applications for a third, and then a fourth tour of duty. Throughout his career Watkins was categorically declared to be “outstanding for his professional attitude, integrity, and suitability for assignment” and was deemed one of the “most respected and trusted soldiers, both by his superiors and his subordinates." But in 1980 Watkins was told his security clearance was being revoked. This action was appealed by his superior officers and his security clearance was re-instated. The Army responded by moving to discharge him. When Mr. Watkins sued to prevent his discharge, the Army reversed course stating it would instead deny him re-enlistment when his hitch ended in 1982. Watkins filed sued again and, in 1989, the United States Court of Appeals ordered the Army to allow Mr. Watkins re-enlist. The Bush Administration appealed the ruling but in November 1990 the Supreme Court let it stand. Rather than re-enlist, Mr. Watkins – by then 42 years old – opted to settle for full retirement benefits, an honorable discharge, retroactive pay and a retroactive promotion from staff sergeant to sergeant first class. Sgt. Perry remains the only openly gay member of the military ever to claim such a high-court victory.



Gender Male

Sexual Orientation Gay

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity African American Black

Nations Affiliated United States

Era/Epoch AIDS Era (1980-present) Civil Rights Movement (1954-1968) Information Age (1970-present) Post-Stonewall Era (1974-1980)

Field(s) of Contribution



Commemorations & Honors

University of Michigan Law School Annual Perry Watkins Fellowship

Watkins v. United States Army Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Victory (1989)

New York City's Pride Parade Grand Marshal (1993)


Original Biography Author
Victor Salvo
Biography Edited By
Owen Keehnen
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell