Ten years ago this week, the odious policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) came to an end.
The law prevented gay people from serving in the military. People who went public with their sexuality were kicked out, no matter how distinguished their service. Enacted in the 1990s, DADT was created to stop witch hunts of “suspected” homosexuals, meaning if you stayed in the closet and kept quiet you’d be left alone.
American Veterans for Equal Rights (AVER), America’s oldest LGBT veterans service organization, hailed the anniversary of repeal. “AVER celebrates this important civil rights milestone, and we honor the long and determined grassroots effort by service members and veterans, men and women, to overturn the nearly 100-year-old policies that denied the freedom to serve to LGBT soldiers, marines, sailors, airmen and coastguardsmen. We acknowledge the diverse efforts, strategies, struggles and sacrifices by many individuals and organizations that led to the repeal of the discriminatory DADT law.”
Fourteen thousand people were dismissed under DADT and an estimated 100,000 service people “under suspicion” were removed since World War II. The repeal anniversary is being used to help right those wrongs. The Department of Defense announced they will review files of veterans who received “other-than-honorable” discharges, and people who were kicked out for their sexuality will be able to get full Veterans Affairs benefits.
People who may have been pressured to leave the service because of their sexual orientation, despite the repeal of DADT, will also have their files and benefit status reviewed. President Joe Biden, who was vice president when DADT was repealed, said, “A great injustice was remedied and a tremendous weight was finally lifted off the shoulders of tens of thousands of dedicated American service members. The repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ which formally barred gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members from openly serving, helped move our nation closer to its foundational promise of equality, dignity, and opportunity for all. It was the right thing to do.”
AVER says much work remains, especially for trans servicemembers, who see their status change with each administration. “Just as Donald Trump reversed the Obama-era policy that allowed transgender volunteers the right to serve, future commanders-in-chief could change policy at will. The reinstatement of transgender service implemented by President Biden must be protected by law.”