Community Resources Legal

Restoring Honor: Military Bans and LGBT Vets

Well, that didn’t take very long! Only eight short years after the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) the honor of queer service members, particularly that of our transgender brothers and sisters, has been perversely maligned by Trump’s asinine transgender military ban.

Those of us who are not in the military (myself included) can only guess the emotional toll of deciding to seek an intentional discharge from service, let alone begin to grasp the profound loss of an unexpected one.

According to a study performed by the UCLA School of Law, transgender folks are twice as likely to join the military in comparison to the general public. There are currently 134,300 transgender veterans and 15,500 on active duty. In fact, the U.S. military is estimated to be the single largest employer of transgender Americans.

I know. I was shocked, too.

Putting aside the glaring economic fallout of this catastrophic ban, for the service members that do not meet the narrow eligibility constraints of “grandfathered” service, there is a very good chance that otherwise impeccable service records will be twisted into dishonorable or forced discharges for pretextual reasons, just like the hundreds of thousands (114,000 to be exact between 1941-2011) of queer service members who suffered under DADT and the rules of previous administrations.

As if there weren’t enough salt in this wound, the final insult of a policy like this is that it’s engineered to ensure that any kind of dishonorable or Other Than Honorable (OTH) discharge uniformly results in the Veterans Association (VA) denying that person any recognition as a “veteran” at all, effectively blocking access to a library of benefits programs, including funeral honors and burial assistance.

That means you will not have an honor guard, your surviving family will not get a flag, and you will certainly not be admitted for burial into a military cemetery, or provided compensation for burial in a non-military cemetery, regardless of your rights.

In addition to problems with VA benefits and treatment, even veterans discharged honorably may face severe privacy invasion. The standard form used to document military service, the DD214 form, may not just list the narrative reason for discharge but also the discharge characterization, separation program numbers (SPNs) or separation program designator (SPD) codes, and re-entry/reenlistment codes. Such labels force veterans to disclose personal information when applying for jobs, apartments, or licenses wherever veteran status is relevant.

So what can be done to actually support our troops and preserve the legacies of our LGBT service members?

Many LGBT centers and non-profit legal counseling services, like Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School and Ohio’s Stonewall Columbus LGBT Center, are organizing to shed light on a little-known application process for upgrading veteran service discharges. Washington, D.C.-based OutServe-Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) is the leader in this area, having already processed an excess of 400 such requests. According to the SLDN website, the process is relatively straight forward, taking anywhere from from six to 18 months to complete.

If you are a veteran, or know of a veteran, who might be interested in options to restore honor, please encourage them to complete the discharge upgrade form  on the Outserve-SLDN website to begin the process of determining eligibility. Also, spread the word about your community’s LGBT center support resources. Any person who puts on the uniform, is unequivocally entitled to an acknowledgement authenticating their life and contributions to a country that is eternally indebted to their sacrifice.


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