QUEER VOICES

Here's How 'Quantum Leap' Depicted Gay Rights In The Military In 1992

Writer Matt Baume examines an episode of the sci-fi series that feels particularly relevant in the wake of Donald Trump's transgender service member ban.

Debate over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ― the since-repealed policy banning gay and lesbian people from serving in the U.S. armed forces ― became the impetus for a 1992 episode of NBC’s “Quantum Leap” that tackled LGBTQ rights. 

In the new installment of his “Culture Club” video series, Seattle-based writer Matt Baume breaks down the forward-thinking “Quantum Leap” episode, titled “Running For Honor.” 

Debuting in 1989, “Quantum Leap” was a science fiction series that followed physicist Sam Beckett (played by Scott Bakula) as he journeyed through space and time in order to shift the course of history for the better. “Running For Honor,” in the show’s fourth season, found Beckett embodying a Midwestern military cadet named Tommy in 1964. 

Tommy/Beckett discovers that his friend, Phillip (Sean O’Bryan), has been expelled from their naval academy because he identifies as gay. By the conclusion of the episode, Tommy must prevent Phillip from being murdered in a hate crime and, in doing so, prove to the naval academy that its rules prohibiting gay recruits are wrong. 

As Baume pointed out, the episode stays true to its 1964 setting by referencing the cultural dialogue around members of the queer community of the era, as well as events that preceded the 1969 Stonewall uprising (considered the symbolic start of the modern LGBTQ rights movement) five years later. 

What’s so great about the episode is that it illustrates how queer people couldn’t fight back against massive institutions like the military all by themselves. Seattle-based writer Matt Baume

“What’s so great about the episode is that it illustrates how queer people couldn’t fight back against massive institutions like the military all by themselves,” Baume explained. “By uniting and fighting for what’s right, the real-life queer community was able to set right what once went wrong.”

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was enacted some two years after the episode aired in 1994 and, at the time, was considered by some to be a step forward for gays and lesbians in the military. 

That policy was, of course, repealed by former President Barack Obama in 2011. But President Donald Trump’s restrictions on transgender service members ― which the Supreme Court allowed to take effect Tuesday as challenges play out in lower courts ― have made sexuality and gender identity in the military a contentious issue once again.  

So, while “Running For Honor” may be rooted in a very specific time and place, Baume said he believes its themes still resonate. 

On “Culture Club,” Baume has previously broken down LGBTQ-themed episodes of “The Golden Girls” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” among other iconic shows. New York Times writer Margaret Lyons praised the series in the Jan. 17 installment of her weekly column, calling it a “thoughtful and thorough ... look at queer representation.” 

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