When we think of the legacy of witch hunts against LGBT people by the military we tend to think about Don't Ask Don't Tell. However, the sad legacy of dishonorable discharges over sexuality that ruined the lives of many fine LGBT men and women goes back generations...The first dedicated efforts being undertaken by the armed forces during World War II with the military recruited soldiers to participate in undercover entrapment schemes in order to snare gay soldiers that they feared were a security risk because enemy agents could threaten them with exposure if they did not hand over military intelligence. This view of LGBT soldiers as an easily exploitable security risk coupled with bias and homophobic beliefs about gay people continued unabated in the minds of military brass and Politicians until the Don't Ask Don't Tell process ripped the lid off of it. But after so many decades and thousands of discharges, the damage done to LGBT service people is almost incalculable. How could you ever begin to make up for so many ruined lives?
Well someone has proposed the first step. Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Rep. Charlie Rangel of New York are proposing the "Restore Honor To Servicemans Act" which would amend the records of some 114,000 servicemen and women to reflect their honorable service.
This is great. However, considering how far back the damage goes...and so many lives not only altered by their discharge, but sometimes destroyed simply by being outed...I am left wondering what this will really accomplish? Lets take a deeper look...
From the official press release on Representatives Pocan's website:
“As we celebrate the considerable progress we’ve made toward full equality in our military, we cannot forget about those who continue to suffer because of the discriminatory policies of our past,” said Pocan, co-chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus. “Our legislation ensures that gay veterans who selflessly served our country no longer live with tarnished records that prohibit them from receiving the recognition, benefits and honors they deserve. By enshrining the implementation of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” repeal into law, our country can finally close this dark chapter of our history and move forward.”
"As an American, a Congressman, and a Korean War Veteran, I was proud to join my colleagues in ending the discriminatory law that previously barred open gay and lesbian soldiers from serving their country,” said Rangel. “Now is the time to finish the job and ensure that all those who served honorably are recognized for their Honorable service regardless of their sexual orientation."
“The repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was a tremendous first step in achieving equality in our nation’s Armed Forces. It is important that we continue to address the discrimination that LGBT veterans face by updating their service records to reflect the reality of their service” said HRC Legislative Director Allison Herwitt. “We are thankful that Reps. Pocan (D-WI) and Rangel (D-NY) have addressed this issue with the “Restore Honor to Service Members Act.’”
The “Restore Honor to Service Members Act” is about more than upgrading a piece of paper. Every form of discharge previously given out prior to the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” carries with it consequences that can follow a service member for his or her entire life. While the character of discharge varied, many members received discharges that were classified as other than honorable or dishonorable, particularly prior to the implementation of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy in 1993. In many states, a dishonorable discharge is treated as a felony, and service members receiving a general discharge, a lesser offense, can encounter grave difficulties acquiring civilian employment. All were barred from reenlisting in the military. Depending on the discharge received, service members may also be blocked from voting, unemployment benefits, participating in the GI Bill or receiving veteran benefits such as health care, VA disability, and ceremonial burial rights at military cemeteries.
They should also re-issue DD-214s to all the discharged members who have the GAY CODE NUMBER and reason for separation, even on honorable discharges. It informs all of your potential employers that your gay and causes a great amount of job discrimination.