More than 100,000 service members since World War II are estimated to have been forced out of the military for being gay, receiving a less-than-honorable discharge under old policies. During a Defense Department event this week celebrating June as LGBT Pride Month, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus called on gay and lesbian veterans to have their records corrected to reflect they served honorably.
Service members who received a less-than-honorable discharge have been denied access or had difficulty obtaining certain benefits, such as GI Bill and veterans healthcare, and have a greater challenge finding civilian employment.
“If you were discharged under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ come in,” Mabus said. “The Board of Corrections of Naval Records will take a look at changing that discharge characterization.”
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which banned openly gay people from serving in the military, was repealed in 2011. Mabus called the policy “insidious and morally wrong” and said its abolishment was long overdue.
“The Navy, the Marines, the Army, the Air Force, Coast Guard are the most powerful forces in the world today,” he said. “It shows that a more diverse force is a stronger force.”
According to Mabus, there are 65,000 active duty LGBT members and 1 million LGBT veterans. The Defense Department is currently reviewing its policy on military service by openly transgender individuals, and Defense Secretary Ash Carter is expected to make an announcement later this year.
During the Pentagon event DoD Pride, an employee resource group that supports the LGBT community, presented retired Navy Adm. Mike Mullen with its military leadership award. Mullen pushed to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” while chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“It was with Admiral Mullen’s courage and leadership and his personal belief in us that I was able to serve my 24th and final year in the United States Air Force with honesty and integrity,” said retired Air Force Master Sgt. Bert Gillott, who served in Mullen’s office and accepted the award on his behalf. “I was tired of lying, tired of worrying if I would be outed,” he added.
A military record upgrade process is available on a case-by-case basis to individual gay veterans who submit requests. Legislation currently stalled in Congress would make that process simpler.