Pocan & Rangel Announce Legislation to Correct Records of 114,000 Gay Veterans Discharged because of their Sexual Orientation
WASHINGTON—Almost two years since the landmark repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” tens of thousands of gay veterans who served this country with honor and dignity possess records that remain blemished with a range of discharges because of their sexuality. To support the Department of Defense’s efforts to rectify this injustice, U.S. Representatives Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Charlie Rangel (D-NY) today proposed legislation, the “Restore Honor to Service Members Act,” that would ensure gay and lesbian service members who were discharged for no other reason than their sexual orientation have their records upgraded to reflect their honorable service.
Since World War II to the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in 2011, approximately 114,000 service members were discharged because of their sexual orientation.
“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.
The “Restore Honor to Service Members Act,” turns the current broad review policy outlined in a memo from the Under Secretary of Defense into clear and settled law. It ensures all services members who were previously discharged because of their sexual orientation receive a timely, consistent and transparent review of their records so that gay veterans who served honorably have their records rightfully upgraded to honorable. It also removes any indication of a service member’s sexual orientation from the record, so they are not automatically “outed” to those accessing their record and protects against future discrimination by decriminalizing consensual relations between same sex couples, bringing military law in line with Supreme Court rulings.