(born July 29
in Warren, Minnesota
) is an American lawyer
activist. He was expelled from the U.S. Naval Academy
after revealing his homosexuality
to his commanding officer. At this time, he was six weeks from graduation and one of the top six midshipmen within the academy. In 1988, Steffan, represented by the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund
, sued for reinstatement. His case was unique in that he was accused of no homosexual conduct; his separation from the military was predicated solely upon his admission of homosexuality. An appellate court panel rebuffed the trial judge's order that Steffan disclose his sexual activity while at the academy anyway. In 1991, U.S. District Judge Oliver Gasch
ruled in favor of the Navy
in the case of Steffan v. Cheney
. Upon appeal, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
in 1993 reversed the district court decision and found in favor of Steffan, but the full court overturned the decision the next year and Steffan decided not to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Besides the increasing conservatism of the court, the election of President Bill Clinton
and his fomenting of a new policy on gays in the military
were factors in the decision of Steffan and Lambda to drop the case.
While the case was pending, Steffan finished college at North Dakota State University and law school at the University of Connecticut. His collected papers from the case now comprise the largest collection within the University of Connecticut Law School archives. Steffan is now a lawyer in New York City.
- Frank Browning, "Boys in the Barracks," Mother Jones, March/April 1993.
- Jeffrey Schmalz, "ON THE FRONT LINES WITH: Joseph Steffan; From Midshipman To Gay Advocate," New York Times, February 4, 1993.
- Randy Shilts, Conduct Unbecoming: Gays & Lesbians in the U.S. Military, Ballantine, 1993.
- Joseph Steffan, Honor Bound: A Gay American Fights for His Right to Serve His Country, Villard, 1992.
- Marc Wolinsky & Kenneth Sherrill, eds. Gays and the Military: Joseph Steffan versus the United States, Princeton University Press, 1993.