Watkins was drafted into the Army in 1968 during the Vietnam War, despite having openly declared his homosexuality. At the time, the Army discharged soldiers for sodomy and other specific acts but not for homosexuality itself.
Nevertheless, discharge proceedings were initiated against Watkins in 1975. Ironically, the person initiating the discharge was the same officer who had once described Watkins as "the best clerk I have known". The military board unanimously decided against the discharge.
IThe Army revoked Watkins' security clearance in 1979, after more than a decade of service. Then in 1982, the Army denied his re-enlistment and Watkins brought suit to prevent his discharge. In 1989, the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that since Watkins had acknowledged being gay when he was drafted, it was unjust of the military to now try and enforce its anti-gay policy and separate him from the service.
In 1991, the Supreme Court refused to hear the Army's appeal, and Watkins was retired from the military with full honors and $135,000 in back pay.
Watkins, who - ironically - used to put on drag shows at military bases, was featured in the late Randy Shilts' book, Conduct Unbecoming. Watkins spent much of the last two years of his life working with a childhood friend on a movie script about his life. He died of AIDS-related complications.