Veterans’ Day, November 11, is a time for us to reflect on the service of our nation’s veterans. One group of veterans often overlooked are LGBTQ veterans who were discharged because of the government’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and previous policies that excluded people from service based on their sexual orientation. While the formal policy was rescinded about 11 years ago, the repercussions of the policy are still being felt today.
More than 100,000 LGBTQ veterans were discharged from the military solely because of who they loved. Many of those veterans did not receive an “honorable” discharge. For example, Helen James, now in her mid-90s, was discharged from the Air Force in the 1950s for being a lesbian. It took decades—and even a federal lawsuit—to have her discharge status upgraded to honorable. But even those members of the LGBTQ community who were discharged because of their sexual orientation and received honorable discharges had their military careers cut short and many of them carried discharge paperwork with the pejorative word “homosexual” on it, subjecting them to further stigma and discrimination. These veterans also were prohibited from re-enlisting in the military.
Most people are surprised to learn that the military has not automatically corrected the records of these veterans harmed by anti-LGBTQ policies. In fact, each person must individually apply to the military for a correction to their records, even though it was the military who instituted the discriminatory policy in the first place.
Randye Hedgecoke recently went through this process. She was discharged from the Marine Corps in 1978. She is a lesbian and was discharged by the Marines, labelled with a “sexual perversion” code and barred from re-enlisting. Like many LGBTQ veterans, Ms. Hedgecoke did not know she could apply to correct her discharge paperwork. When she finally found help to do so, the military eventually agreed to correct her paperwork.
California has just enacted a new law designed to help LGBTQ veterans apply for discharge upgrades. But many LGBTQ veterans remain alienated from both the veteran community and the LGBTQ community. The San Francisco post of the American Legion, Alexander Hamilton Post 448, is the only LGBTQ post of the American Legion. It is important to spread the word to LGBTQ veterans that they can change their discharge paperwork but it also is important for the military to correct these records automatically.
Our organization is seeking to connect with veterans (all branches) who were discharged due to their actual or perceived sexual orientation and who received a less-than-honorable discharge (for example: general discharge under honorable conditions, other than honorable, bad conduct, dishonorable, etc.) on their DD-214. If this applies to you or someone you know, please contact us at [email protected] to discuss how we might be able to help. Our nonprofit organization’s lawyers want to provide free support to these veterans and ultimately bring honor to their service by fighting for honorable discharges.