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How The Real World Ended “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”


In 1992, Bill Clinton, then a candidate for president, proposed the idea of allowing gay, lesbian, and bisexual Americans to serve openly in the U.S. military. Within a year, the new commander in chief ’s idea had instead mutated into the policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

That same year, MTV famously launched the story of “seven strangers, picked to live in a loft, and have their lives taped, to find out what happens when people stop being polite…and start getting real.” In contrast to Clinton’s policy, MTV’s new show thrived.

So what does the The Real World, now in its 20th season of production, have to do with the Pentagon’s current ban on anyone who “demonstrate(s) a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts” from serving in the U.S. military? History will likely look at the show, or to be more specific the genre of reality television it helped launch, as one of the key factors that ultimately ended “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Peter W. Singer

Former Brookings Expert

Strategist and Senior Fellow - New America

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