US LGBTQ+ veterans file lawsuit against Pentagon for “ongoing discrimination”

LGBTQ+ veterans have sued the Pentagon for its failure to update their discharge records after they were fired due to their sexual orientation.

This article is about LGBTQ+ veterans suing the Pentagon. In the photo, a US soldier sitting in uniform with their hands clasped.
Image: Via Pexels - RDNE Stock project

On Tuesday, August 8, five LGBTQ+ veterans filed a civil rights suit against the Pentagon (the US Department of Defense) over the “ongoing discrimination” they still face after being fired because of their sexual orientation before the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in 2011.

As reported by CBS News, at least 35,000 US veterans were impacted by the anti-LGBTQ+ military policy between 1980 to 2011, receiving “a discharge or separation because of real or perceived homosexuality, homosexual conduct, sexual perversion, or any other related reason”. More than a decade after the ban was lifted, LGBTQ+ veterans are still facing discrimination due to their discharge papers.

In addition to having discriminatory language referring to their sexual orientation on the documents, they were also denied an honourable discharge, depriving them of all the benefits that come with it, including home loan programs, health care and retirement pay.

The lawsuit, filed by the Impact Fund, Legal Aid at Work and King and Spalding LLP on behalf of the LGBTQ+ veterans, alleges that failure by the Pentagon to correct this “ongoing discrimination” amounts to a violation of constitutional rights. The plaintiffs are not seeking monetary damages, but ask the US Department of Defense to systematically update LGBTQ+ veterans’ discharge papers and remove any references to their sexual orientation.

Veterans are asked to present their discharge papers when accessing benefits, and also when applying for a loan, a job or an apartment. For this reason, as lawyer Jocelyn Larkin explained, “Every time they have to show that document they are essentially outed involuntarily.”

In a statement released earlier in the year, the Pentagon specified that they already have an existing process to update discharge papers, which consists of a two-page application that can be filed by veterans seeking a review. The statement also informed that the discharge review boards “strive to finalize 90% of all cases within 10 months as required by statute”. As estimated by the most recent data provided by the Pentagon, only 1,375 veterans have been granted a review.

The lawsuit says that such a process “places the burden on individual veterans to spend months or years obtaining old personnel records before they can even file the applications that will then take months or years to be processed, on top of the years since their discriminatory discharges”.

“The application process is opaque,” the lawsuit continues. “Many veterans must hire lawyers to assist them. Individual veterans are forced to relive the trauma of their discharge, carrying the burden of proving discrimination to the very institution that discriminated against them.”

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