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!)