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September 8, 2015

“I Hid it Away Because it Would Ruin My Life.” Aging Gay Veterans Fight for Honorable Discharge.

"DADT is "history" now, Leonard, Rest in Peace..." Tony Fischer, FlickrThe struggle for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights is not over.

The Supreme Court of the United States might have ruled that gay marriage is legal.

But there is still a county clerk in Kentucky who would rather go to jail than issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

Homophobia is still a problem.

LGBTQ people still face a battle.

According to a recent article in The New York Times, “as many as 100,000 service members were discharged for being gay between World War II and the 2011 repeal of the military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.”

Besides causing psychological grief and embarrassment, being dishonorably discharged prevented them from receiving benefits and barred them from government jobs.

The Obama administration set up a policy in 2011 to turn dishonorable discharges into honorable ones; if being gay was the only reason why an individual was discharged, the process is slow and complicated.

It can take years, and many veterans who have successfully changed their discharge had to hire lawyers to do so—and face the mounting legal expenses that can come with them. For many veterans on a fixed budget, it may not even be a possibility.

Some veterans may not even be aware of this option given how little press attention it has received.

Restore Honor to Service Members Act is a bill to streamline the process. It hopes to address some of these concerns.

However, we shouldn’t hold our breaths waiting for it to pass. Even though it was introduced in 2013, the bill has been stalled, and insiders say there is little chance it will move forward this year. Even if it does move forward, it’s unlikely to pass given the current make up of Congress.

Sadly, many veterans may die before their cases are even heard.

However, if there is a silver lining to be found, it is that many gay veterans are finally telling their stories.

Several of the interviewees in The New York Times piece revealed that it was the first time they ever discussed their stories to anyone. 82 year old Donald Hallman, said,

“I hid it away because it would ruin my life.”  

While that was true back in 1955, the year Hallman was discharged, it is not the case now.

Stories like Hallman’s should be told because they are part of our history.

For centuries, gay people served their countries and even died for it, but they could not be who they were because of the consequences they faced. As we progress toward a more tolerant society, it’s important that we recognize and tell these stories.

Hopefully, in the not-so-distant future, young people will hear these tales and be shocked that someone could ever be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.

What’s more, they will be aware of the sacrifices and contributions they made to society.

Let’s make sure this happens by telling our elected officials not to forget about these men and women and helping them to tell their stories.

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Relephant:

The single best Gay Rights video I’ve ever seen.

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Author: Kimberly Lo

Editor: Khara-Jade Warren

Image: Tony Fischer/ Flickr

 

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