LGBT Veterans Deserve Equal Rights and Recognition, Not Just a Free Bloomin’ Onion

The United States has made enormous strides in the last few years to bring itself in line with the rest of the modern world when it comes to LGBT military service members, but this Veteran’s Day — as we honor the courageous, selfless members of the U.S. Armed Forces — it’s important to remember how much further we have to go.

Today, for example, if you are an LGBT person who has made the sacrifice of serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, you can get a free entree at Hooters, a free Bloomin’ Onion at Outback Steakhouse, a free visit to the World of Coca-Cola, a free crispy shrimp lettuce wrap from Red Lobster, a free haircut from Great Clips, and a free buffalo chicken pizza from California Pizza Kitchen. What you cannot get is full veteran’s benefits for your spouse if you live in one of the 18 states that still enforces a same-sex marriage ban.

Despite the fact that the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act over a year ago, and despite the fact that President Obama signed an executive order in July that bans federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT people, the Department of Veterans Affairs still adheres to Section 103(c) of Title 38 of the U.S. Code, which determines the validity of a couple’s marriage by the law of their state of residence, not by the law of the state in which they were married. So, legally married same-sex couples are being denied access to things like ChampVA (healthcare for spouses of disabled veterans), the full backing of VA home loans, survivor’s benefits for widowed spouses, the right to be buried with their spouses, and a higher rate of compensation for disabled veterans with dependents.

Unsurprisingly, on September 10th, the Republican-controlled House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs voted against an amendment that would change Title 38 of the U.S. Code to grant full benefits to LGBT veterans and their spouses. And with the recent Republican takeover of both the House and the Senate in the midterm election, it seems likely that the Supreme Court will have to issue a broader ruling on marriage equality before anything changes. (Now that the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld same-sex marriage bans for the first time since the fall of DOMA, it seems inevitable that SCOTUS will be forced to hear marriage equality cases this session.)

Transgender people face the harshest discrimination of all: If they are openly trans, they’re not even allowed to serve in the U.S. military. The Palm Center found “15,450 [closeted] transgender personnel who serve currently in the active, Guard and reserve components” of the various branches of the military, but if they are outed, they can be dismissed because the Defense Department’s official language describes them as sexual deviants suffering from “paraphilia.” And while Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said he is “open” to discussing the ban, he does not seem eager to review the discriminatory policy with the motivation of overturning it.

The queer soldiers who have braved (and continue to brave) actual wars for us need us to go to battle for them too. How can you help? I’m glad you asked!

+ You can make a donation to the American Military Partner Association, the “nation’s largest resource and support network for LGBT military partners, spouses, their families, and allies.”

+ You can stay informed about the struggles of LGBT veterans by reading through the resources provided by American Veterans for Equal Rights.

+ You can write to the House or the Senate with the help of OutServe-SLDN to demand equality for LGBT military personnel.

+ You can make a donation to the Blue Alliance, a charity for LGBT alumni of the Air Force Academy.

+ You can support Knights Out, a group of West Point cadets, staff, alumni, etc. who advocate on behalf of LGBT soldiers.

+ You can make a donation to USNA Out, an organization of United States Naval Academy alumni who are fighting to change the lives of LGBT people in the Navy.

If you are a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, we honor you today (and every day)! (But you really probably should go get one of those free Bloomin’ Onions!)

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle managing editor who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 835 articles for us.

11 Comments

  1. I hear occasionally about trans people being closeted in the military, but I have no idea how that works. Isn’t the lack of privacy and the requirement for medical exams and stuff going to expose them almost immediately? Isn’t their sex listed on their personnel file? It would never even occur to me to attempt this.

    • In my experience, they present as their assigned gender. I don’t think the military medical care providers offer any support on that front. You are for all intents and purposes your assigned gender. The medical professionals are in theory supposed to maintain some level of confidentiality, but I know through first hand experience that they can and will communicate with your chain of command or any other physicians you have seen.(The therapist I was seeing for generalized anxiety spoke with my primary care physician and my unit regarding a legitimate injury and an impending pt test they thought I was trying to sham out of.)

      I would imagine that a transgendered person who had undergone any degree of physiological transition would be addressed fairly rapidly. But as long as your anatomy generally matches the gender you were assigned at birth and you can talk the talk, I imagine you might slip by.

    • To enter the military, you would have to enter as the gender assigned at birth; before you sign a contract, you have to go through MEPS (a Military Entry Processing Station) and get a thorough and somewhat humiliating physical exam. I’m a cis female, and I had a pelvic exam as part of that physical; I assume that male candidates have some sort of equally intrusive exam while there. All the armed forces use the MEPS to screen candidates as far as I know. However, my experience has been that if you enter the reserves, you don’t have to get annual physicals because you can sim

    • Someone doesn’t have to be actively transitioning to be trans. I served in the Army under my old given name as my assigned gender. It was pretty much about as awful as it sounds, but it did set me up for success in the stage of my life I’m in now.

  2. I was in the military (Army), and everyday was a trial of misdirection, and a lot of fear, but I never let it show. I was the ultimate master of disguise. Why, because I am a transwoman. I kept it all inside never letting anyone get close enough to see the truth.

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