In 2010, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) was repealed under the Obama Administration, ending an over decade long policy prohibiting LGBTQ people from disclosing their sexual orientation while they served in the US military. Since 1993, over 13,000 veterans received an “Other Than Honorable (OTH) discharge” in violation of DADT. Consequently, the discharge status barred LGBTQ former service members from accessing vital resources and benefits typically granted to veterans, such as tuition and housing assistance. Moreover, the discharge status remained following the repeal, forcing LGBTQ veterans to undergo a lengthy and difficult upgrade process.
Now, five LGBTQ veterans have filed a federal civil rights suit against the Defense Department, citing the Pentagon’s failure to change these veterans’ discharge status to honorable as well as the department’s negligence in correcting the biased language in their discharge documents known as a DD-214. The suit disputes that the language of the DD-214, which identifies veterans’ sexual orientation as the reason for their discharge, is in violation of their constitutional rights. Jocelyn Larkin, a lawyer on the case, reported to CBS that this document which veterans have to present for jobs applications and other instances, involuntarily outs the veterans. Thus, the suit argues that this violates the plaintiff’s right to privacy, equal protection, and due process granted by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
EXCLUSIVE: A group of LGBTQ+ veterans — kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation — have sued the Pentagon. They don’t want money — they want their honor restored. For more: Watch CBS Mornings Wednesday. https://t.co/0R7rdQuQyt
— CBS News (@CBSNews) August 9, 2023
The suit additionally calls out the problematic upgrade process that LGBTQ veterans must undergo to change their status. Since October of 1980, about 30,000 veterans have been discharged or received a separation from service due to their “real or perceived” sexuality. Yet as of March 2023, only 1,375 veterans have received upgrades. The suit reads:
“The application process is opaque; many veterans must hire lawyers to assist them. Individual veterans are forced to relive the trauma of their discharge, carrying the burden of proving discrimination to the very institution that discriminated against them.”
Though Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed over a decade ago, its legacy continues to impact thousands of veterans as it bars them from essential resources. LGBTQ veterans are disproportionately more likely to experience economic insecurity than non-LGBTQ veterans as they are ineligible for housing vouchers. Data from the Federal Reserve’s 2019 Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking (SHED) showed that LGBTQ Veterans were four times more likely to report financial insecurity than non-LGBTQ vets. Additionally, 36 percent of LGBTQ veterans reported being dissatisfied with the cost of their housing compared to 14 percent of non-LGBTQ veterans.
These LGBTQ veterans also experience inaccessibility to mental health resources in a way that non-LGBTQ vets don’t.
While VA healthcare has actively worked to create a more inclusive environment, OTH veterans do not automatically have access to their resources. According to SHED’s data, 21 percent of LGBTQ veterans reported being unable to seek mental health care due to costs, seven times higher than non-LGBTQ veterans.
— WBFO (@WBFO) November 12, 2020
With this said, many who were discharged under DADT can not access Federal benefits. However, there are state legislatures that have opened up their respective state benefits to veterans who were wrongfully terminated for their sexuality. In 2019, New York State passed the Restoration of Honor Act which authorizes the NY Department of Veterans’ Services to grant access to State Veterans Benefits to those who received an OTH discharge due to sexual orientation, gender identity, PTSD, and other conditions. Though such laws do not change the status of these veterans, it does provide assistance to those who otherwise can not receive them from the federal government.
The first line of the class action lawsuit quotes the engraving of American Vietnam War veteran Leonard Matlovich’s gravestone: “When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”
The veterans discharged during the DADT era entered the military to represent the United States. However, they were denied their right to serve their country simply because of who they love, and they continue to experience the unjustified repercussions of a decades past discriminatory policy. While the United States took a step forward to dissolve DADT, it continues to leave thousands of veterans behind.
If you yourself or a loved one have been impacted by DADT click here for GLAAD’s LGBTQ resource list.