Data shared by Legal Aid At Work highlights that over 29,000 LGBTQ individuals who were expelled due to their sexual orientation were denied honorable discharges. In a groundbreaking development, exclusive figures obtained by CBS News shed light on the extensive discrimination faced by gay and lesbian service members in the United States military.
Until now, estimates had suggested that approximately 14,000 service members were separated from the military under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which prohibited gay men and women from serving openly from 1994 to 2011. However, the recently revealed breakdown of figures covers a broader timeframe from 1980 until the ban was lifted by federal courts in 2010.
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A staggering 35,801 individuals experienced discharge or separation due to their perceived or actual homosexuality or related reasons. Of these cases, an alarming 81% were denied honorable discharges, instead receiving general discharges, other than honorable discharges, bad conduct discharges, or dishonorable discharges.
Interestingly, the Defense Department’s Office of Legal Policy contradicted these figures within weeks of their release, stating that most service members separated based on homosexual conduct between 1970 and 2011 were discharged honorably. The inconsistency in data provided by different branches of the military highlights the lack of clarity and transparency surrounding this issue.
The consequences of these discriminatory practices have been significant for LGBTQ+ veterans. Denied access to full benefits such as healthcare, VA loan programs, tuition assistance, and employment opportunities, many have faced emotional and financial hardship. Furthermore, the U.S. military has failed to rectify cases in which service members were wrongfully convicted and burdened with felony records due to their involvement in same-sex relationships.
Elizabeth Kristen, the director of Legal Aid At Work’s Gender Equity & LGBTQ Rights Program, emphasized the significance of the figures, stating that they “confirm the magnitude of discrimination and injustice suffered by so many service members.” Kristen also highlighted the detrimental impact of receiving a discharge status less than honorable, which deprives these veterans of the benefits entitled to other service members.
The release of this data follows a comprehensive six-month investigation by CBS News, which further exposed the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ veterans. Only a fraction of these veterans, approximately 1,375, have successfully obtained relief through discharge upgrades or corrections to their records.
In response to these revelations, the Defense Department stated its efforts to inform veterans of the process to correct any errors or injustices in their military records. Advocacy groups, including the Human Rights Campaign, have called for a reevaluation of the discharge upgrade process, urging the Pentagon to address the bias and discrimination embedded in military practices.