September 8, 2015

Who Are You Calling Dishonorable? Elderly Gay Vets Fight for Justice.

"TwoMilitaryMen1. CPP.WDC.9June1996," Elvert Barnes, Flickr

In a country that claims to be founded on freedom and justice for all, why are aging gay veterans still having to fight for an honorable discharge?

Our leaders publicly call upon God for favors in battle and our young men have willingly sacrificed their lives for the honor of serving their country.

And yet, allegedly, as many as 100,000 service members were discharged for being gay during World War II under the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which was repealed in 2011.

A less-than-honorable discharge was akin to an official scarlet letter.

Veterans became ineligible for benefits, government jobs and other employment, not to mention the shame endured afterwards.

In recent times aging veterans have found courage in the fact that openly gay soldiers serve in the military and increasing parts of society embrace same-sex couples. They are re-visiting their discharge status, which for some is still a complicated and discouraging process.

Since 2011, an Obama administration policy generally grants an honorable discharge to any veteran who was discharged for homosexuality unless there were “aggravating” factors, such as misconduct.

Records from the Department of Defense show 80 percent of the nearly 500 requests submitted since 2011 received an upgrade.

But for some veterans the process is not so easy.

Their records may be lost or as in the case of Donald Hallman who was discharged in 1955 for being what it called a “Class II homosexual,” the records were burned by the 21 year old out of fear of his life being ruined.

As it turns out, a bill in Congress, known as the Restore Honor to Service Members Act, would grant blanket upgrades to nearly all veteran discharged for being gay, but it has been stalled in Congress since 2013, and backers say it has little chance of moving forward this year.

The United States military’s punishment of homosexuality reaches as far back as the Revolutionary War. Historians say Gen. George Washington personally ordered that a young officer be “dismiss’d with Infamy”.

Although, starting with World War II, the military treated homosexuality as a mental defect rather than a crime, it still, using long interrogations and threats of public humiliation purged gay soldiers from duty.

“These stories are buried deep; it can be traumatic to dredge it up again,” said Lori Gum, an organizer at Stonewall Columbus, a gay community center in Ohio. She has helped six veterans start the upgrade process in the past year, including Mr. Hallman, but said three were too troubled by the past to finish the application. ~ Dave Phillipps, The New York Times

America has fought many wars and without a doubt, some of the most crucial ones have been internal.

Equal rights for women, emancipation of slaves, personal freedoms (including freedom from fear and persecution) for African Americans, acceptance of gay rights—it goes on and on—why is America still fighting its own?

How is it that those who fought for the freedom of their countrymen were treated dishonorably because of their sexual preferences?

The dishonor belongs to the government who failed to value their contribution. The dishonor belongs to a society that claims allegiance to a God who abhors gay love.

Surely a President who has already done so much for the Equal Rights movement can take one more look at this stalemate and before he leaves office declare all men discharged for their gay lifestyle honorable and deserving of the utmost respect?

Is the willingness to lay down one’s life for their country not enough?

Why this stalemate?

History proves that when politics needs something done quickly, and it serves the good of whomever is pushing the change, wild horses cannot derail the process.

Every country has its dirty little secrets.

Every government has made horrific decisions that in later years make neither sense nor account for the cost to human life.

Mr. President, while you fight for freedoms and equal rights elsewhere, why not take a serious look at the hardship presented to elderly veterans on account of this discouraging pile of red tape?

It would be the honorable thing to do.



Gay Marriage: Why Legal Isn’t Enough.


Author: Monika Carless

Editor: Khara-Jade Warren

Image: Elvert Barnes/ Flickr

Source: New York Times

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