LGBT-Identifying Vets Sue for ‘Reparations’ from the US Military
Americans removed from the U.S. military because they identified as lesbian or nonbinary have sued the U.S. military for “reparations now,” saying it is wrong to deny less-than-honorably-discharged veterans the same benefits earned by those who served honorably — including college tuition, health care, restaurant discounts, and “society’s admiration.”
Two left-wing legal groups filed a class action lawsuit in San Francisco demanding the Pentagon pay for “the plight of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, gender non-conforming, nonbinary, and intersex (‘LGBTQ+’) veterans discharged under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ (‘DADT’) and its predecessor policies.” The case, Farrell v. United States Department of Defense, contends that the “U.S. Armed Forces allows that discrimination to live on in the discharge papers carried by LGBTQ+ veterans.”
The plaintiffs want the armed services to automatically amend their discharge form DD-214, giving them access to “a vast network of potential benefits for veterans including healthcare benefits, educational benefits, and financial benefits (e.g., lending opportunities),” as well as “home loan financing and job benefits” available to those who earned an honorable discharge. They also demand “an expressly codified employment advantage in nearly every government sector.”
The lawsuit mentions “benefits” 66 times in 34 pages, “including discounts at stores and restaurants.”
It also complains that dishonorably discharged service members are “deprived of society’s admiration.”
The legal brief contends that denying LGBT-identifying soldiers additional government benefits violates the Fifth Amendment, “shocks the conscience,” and/or “interferes with rights implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.” Furthermore, “[t]here is no legitimate governmental interest in the ongoing deprivation of veterans’ benefits,” as the national debt climbs above $33 trillion.
Sherrill Farrell — who served less than one year in the Navy during the Reagan administration before being discharged — touted her lawsuit in an op-ed in The Hill titled “‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ was wrong — LGBTQ+ service members deserve reparations now.”
But Lt. General (Ret.) Jerry Boykin, Family Research Council’s executive vice president, told The Washington Stand, “If the DOD allows this lawsuit to result in reparations, it may be opening Pandora’s Box with other lawsuits or infractions of policies that today’s woke military has embraced.”
“Service members had been put out of the armed services for homosexual behavior long before” the Clinton administration enacted the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in 1994, said Boykin. “Every service member that joined knew what the policy was, as well as what the potential consequences were.”
Historically, the U.S. military policy never permitted open same-sex sexual activity in the military on the grounds that it undermined unit cohesion, harmed military readiness, carried the threat of sexual harassment and blackmail, spread AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, led to homosexual nepotism, and caused the general breakdown of military culture. As far back as 1778, George Washington expelled two men from the Continental Army, saying he condemned “sodomy” with the “Abhorrence & Detestation of [other] Infamous Crimes.” “Homosexuality is incompatible with military service,” the Pentagon stated in 1993.
Would-be enlistees were asked if they identified as homosexual until 1994, when President Bill Clinton paved the way for the transformation of military culture with the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. The new initiative, which Clinton promised during the 1992 campaign, ordered officers not to inquire about anyone’s sexual proclivities, but still ordered commanders to discharge those who declared that they identify as LGBT or otherwise violated the proscription of such behavior. By the end of his term, Clinton reportedly referred to his own DADT policy, already seen as a Clintonesque half-step, as a “dumba--” move.
Although military experts testified that open service by LGBT-identified members still poses the same problems to military competence and morale, Congress voted to repeal DADT in December 2010. Barack Obama signed the bill a week later, and it took effect on September 20, 2011. On the day of the signing, then-Vice President Joe Biden called open homosexuality in the military “both morally and militarily simply the right thing to do.”
The Obama-Biden administration also moved to overturn hundreds of years of military tradition by allowing those who had received a less-than-honorable discharge due to the centuries-old prohibition on same-sex activity to apply for the services to upgrade the status listed on their discharge papers. Then-Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Clifford L. Stanley issued a memo the day the new policy became operative that most requests should be granted, provided there were no other aggravating factors. At least 1,375 former service members have applied for and received such changes to their DD-214 forms.
But the lawsuit wants these upgraded automatically and complains that “only a relative handful of veterans have sought record corrections and discharge upgrades.” The plaintiffs believe the process should be entirely undertaken by the Defense Department.
At times, the lawsuit blames the “trauma” inflicted by the U.S. military for the separated members’ failure to access benefits they were entitled to. “The Navy’s discriminatory discharge, for example, led Plaintiff [James] Gonzales to be ashamed of his sexual orientation in the years following his discharge and, consequently, discouraged him from undergoing the record correction process,” it states.
Even with a less-than-honorable discharge, most veterans expelled for same-sex activity remain eligible for some taxpayer-funded military benefits. “Any discharge under honorable conditions satisfies the character of discharge requirement for basic eligibility for VA benefits,” the Veterans Administration explains. The VA only bars basic benefits to individuals removed from the service “under dishonorable conditions,'” such as “homosexual acts involving aggravating circumstances or factors affecting the performance of duty” — including “child molestation, homosexual prostitution, homosexual acts or conduct accompanied by coercion or assault, and homosexual acts or conduct when a service member has taken advantage of his or her superior rank, grade, or status.”
Despite the VA explanation, the lawsuit contends that “the VA’s policy change has not yet materialized. There is no publicly available written guidance that identifies who is and who is not eligible for these benefits.”
The lawsuit would affect a minuscule percentage of those who wore the uniform during the time in question. In all, 29,177 service members received a less than honorable discharge due to homosexual sexual activity between 1980 and 2011. The vast majority of these (18,729, or 64%) received a General Discharge Under Honorable Conditions, according to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Legal Aid at Work as part of the litigation process. CBS News wrote that these “figures reveal scope of military discrimination against LGBTQ troops.” Between 1.4 million and 2.1 million Americans served in the military each year between 1980 and 2011; the number discharged represent less than 1% of enlisted service members over those three decades.
Additionally, nearly 5,000 of those discharged — including two of the plaintiffs, Steven Egland and Julie “Jules” Sohn — received an honorable discharge.
This lawsuit — filed in the U.S. district court of northern California by left-wing lawyers’ organizations Legal Aid at Work and The Impact Fund — aligns with the Biden administration’s policy goals. Last Wednesday, the Pentagon began contacting those discharged over DADT or similar policies to open up access to benefits.
Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.