LGBT Military Families Still Face Challenges 3 Years After Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

by Stephen Peters

WASHINGTON– On the third anniversary of the successful repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights, highlighted the numerous challenges that LGBT service members, veterans, and their families continue to face.

The repeal of the discriminatory DADT policy allowed lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals to serve in the military openly and honestly. However, while the repeal of DADT was an incredibly important step forward, many issues remain for these service members, veterans, their families, and those still prohibited from serving.

“Despite the dire predictions of opponents, the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was hugely successful and only strengthened our military,” said Chad Griffin, president of HRC. “However, three years later, challenges clearly remain, and we urge the Secretary of Defense to take action in the areas he can address. No matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, all service members and their families deserve to have access to the same benefits and be treated with the same dignity and respect.”

Some of the remaining challenges include:

Transgender Service: Despite the repeal of DADT, transgender individuals are still prohibited from openly serving in the military due to outdated and obsolete Department of Defense (DoD) medical regulations.  In May of this year, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he was “open” to reviewing the military’s ban on transgender people.  An estimated 15,000 transgender individuals are currently serving in silence.

Non-Discrimination Protections: LGB service members who face discrimination or harassment have few options for addressing their problem.  Most harassment and discrimination complaints can be pursued outside of the chain of command through the Military Equal Opportunity Program.  However, following repeal of DADT, sexual orientation was NOT included in the DoD’s formal non-discrimination policy which triggers access to the MEO complaint and support processes, leaving LGB service members more vulnerable.

Marriage Recognition and Access to Veterans’ Benefits: The lack of recognition of the legal marriages of same-sex military couples in non-marriage equality states is incredibly harmful and causes a host of problems for the family. When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor, most agencies across the federal government – including the DoD – began recognizing all legally married same-sex couples, regardless of where they live. But because of an inconsistency in the statute that regulates veterans’ benefits, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has only been fully recognizing married same-sex couples in states that have marriage equality. This cuts off veterans and their same-sex spouses from a range of federal benefits, including access to the full backing of VA home loans, to survivor benefits for the spouse.

Additionally, same-sex couples face other challenges including the inability to file state taxes jointly in many states, difficulties in adopting the child of one’s spouse especially in states with second parent adoption bans, denial of in-state tuition for military spouses in some states, and problems in a host of other areas. These military families continue to be treated as second class, despite their selfless service to our nation.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.


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