Cammermeyer v. Perry

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Status: Closed
Landmark Case
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
Issues: Employment and Rights in the Workplace, Military

Pioneering case arguing the reinstatement of Army and National Guard veteran after she was discharged because of her sexual orientation

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A 28-year veteran of the Army and National Guard, and Chief Nurse of the Washington State National Guard, Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer was the highest-ranking service member to be discharged for being lesbian or gay. Among many other honors, she received a Bronze Star for her service in Vietnam and was selected as the Veterans Administration Nurse of the Year in 1985. After she was discharged based on her sexual orientation, Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of her discharge. Two years later, a federal district judge held that the military’s pre-“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban violated the equal protection and due process guarantees of the U.S. Constitution and ordered the Army to reinstate Cammermeyer to the Washington National Guard. The government did not appeal Cammermeyer’s right to be reinstated, but it asked the Ninth Circuit court of Appeals to strike the judge’s ruling from the books. The ruling took issue with the old ban as well as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The Ninth Circuit denied this request and sent the case back to district court, which refused to strike its original judgment in favor of Cammermeyer. Cammermeyer has now retired.


An average of 900 service members a year are discharged from the Army for being gay under the government’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

Lambda Legal's Impact

Because the district court refused to strike its judgment in favor of Cammermeyer, a valid ruling critical of the military’s ban on gay people remains on the books. Cammermeyer’s case, which was dramatized in the film Serving in Silence, also helped educate the public about the unjustness of the military’s antigay policies. For over thirty years, Lambda Legal has challenged discriminatory policies against lesbians and gay men in the military, one of the country’s largest employers. Our litigation seeks recognition of the constitutional right of lesbian and gay service members to be judged by the same standards as all others.