As our nation bears witness to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the 10th year of the conflict coincides with a milestone of particular significance to LGBTQ+ Americans who have served in uniform: the approach of the 10th anniversary of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
On September 20th, 2011, nearly two decades after its implementation, DADT, the federal policy barring LGBTQ+ service members from serving openly in our military, was repealed as the result of a years-long effort to reverse the discriminatory ban.
The battle to end DADT was hard-fought and the Human Rights Campaign was on its front line.
HRC led a coalition of members and supporters, dozens of elected officials, a coalition of 70+ organizations, and 20,000 pro-repeal veterans who took an expansive and unrelenting approach to build a national groundswell toward repeal, rejecting the falsehood that the presence of LGBTQ+ individuals within the military would undermine unit cohesion and readiness.
In the lead-up to the end of the indefensible policy, HRC mobilized its forces. We deployed 27 staff members on the ground to coordinate grassroots efforts in states vital to the repeal. We placed print and online advertisements in national and local publications and blanketed localities with pro-repeal messaging across media markets nationwide. Our digital messaging strategy went even further, dispatching 19 million emails to HRC members and supporters, generating an unprecedented 625,000 emails and 50,000 hand-written letters to members of Congress. HRC held hundreds of events, culminating in a national “Voices of Honor” tour in partnership with Servicemembers United that concluded with a Veterans Lobby Day, uplifting powerful testimony from coalition members and hundreds of lesbian, gay and straight veterans urging the end to the military’s prohibition on LGBTQ+ troops.
We helped usher in the end of DADT, but the war is not over.
For the 13,000 troops who were directly impacted by DADT, including LGBTQ+ veterans who served prior to its passage and the trans military members whose military service came under attack more recently as a result of the Trump-Pence administration’s discriminatory ban on transgender troops, the impact is still felt.
All told, approximately 100,000 LGBTQ+ veterans faced dishonorable discharges over the last several decades, stripping them of their careers in uniform and denying many access to the crucial veterans educational, housing and health care benefits afforded to those who serve.
Just as HRC fought to repeal DADT, we are now joining the fight to pass the Securing the Rights our Veterans have Earned Act. This crucial piece of legislation, being introduced by Rep. Chris Pappas, would guarantee and protect VA benefits for LGBTQ+ veterans who received separation discharges other than honorable or entry-level due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
As nearly 6.1 percent of U.S. military personnel presently self-identify as LGBTQ+, HRC will continue to stand with these service members and veterans in their fight for equal treatment, ensuring their rights are protected and their service is honored.