Another Victory Against Anti-Gay Discrimination in the Military
The Pentagon has agreed to give lesbian and gay servicemembers discharged under the now retired “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule the full severance pay they had previously been denied.
This comes as a result of a settlement, announced Monday, in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of New Mexico. The policy to deny DADT discharged soldiers the pay given to other veterans was not repealed when DADT was retired in September 2010, meaning that many veterans were still denied the full benefits they had earned.
The ACLU brought a class action lawsuit representing around 181 honorably discharged veterans who had seen their separation pay cut in half due to the Pentagon’s policy. The ACLU had calculated that the total amount of pay withheld from the veterans is $2.4 million.
Under the settlement, all servicemembers party to the lawsuit will be notified that they can now receive the full separation pay that they would have been eligible for had they been discharged for any other honorable reason.
Federal law entitles servicemembers discharged on or after November 10, 2004, to full pay, as this is as far back as the statute of limitations allows the deal to stretch. This means that as many as 3,300 veterans could benefit from this ruling, based on the discharge figures between 2004 and the time the DADT policy was retired in 2010.
Lead plaintiff in this case is Richard Collins, a former staff sergeant in the Air Force whose nine-year career was ended when he was discharged under DADT, said in a statement: “This means so much to those of us who dedicated ourselves to the military, only to be forced out against our will for being who we are. We gave all we had to our country, and just wanted the same dignity and respect for our service as any other veterans.”
Laura Schaur Ives, of the ACLU of New Mexico, called this an end to a “double dose of discrimination,” going on to say that, “This decision represents a long-delayed justice to these veterans.”
This is a sentiment echoed by Joshua Block, staff attorney for the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project, who said, “It makes no sense to continue to penalize service members who were discharged under a discriminatory statute that has already been repealed. The amount of the pay owed to these veterans is small by military standards, but is hugely significant in acknowledging their service to their country.”
The ACLU has more information on who is eligible under the terms of the settlement and how to claim here.
This comes as news stories surfaced last week that armed forces web filters are still blocking access to a number of prominent LGBT related websites, such as Americablog and Pam’s House Blend, while at the same time allowing access to religious conservative and virulently anti-gay websites such as the Family Research Council.
A statement from the Department of Defense’s George Little given to Ambericablog, the first site to break the recent story, clarifies:
The Department of Defense does not block websites based on LGBT content.
The Department of Defense strongly supports the rights of gay and lesbian men and women in uniform to serve proudly and openly.
In order to help maintain adequate levels of information security in support of DoD policy, some components employ commercial tools that may allow users to visit “news” sites while disallowing pages categorized as “personal sites and blogs”.
No filter is perfect and some sites may have unnecessarily been blocked. The Department Chief Information Officer will work with relevant components to address these situations.
While, given the DoD’s context, this might be perceived as but a minor wrinkle, there are other serious problems that remain for some servicemembers.
For instance, while DADT is now defunct, there still exists a ban on trans servicemembers who, if they seek help to deal with issues surrounding their gender dysphoria, such as seeking counselling or transition related care, risk being separated from the military under separate rules that treat trans identity as a mental disorder, despite the fact that trans identity in no way impacts on the soldier’s skills.
Servicemembers also continue to suffer under the Defense of Marriage Act which, for instance, prevents many gay and lesbian married servicemembers from accessing spousal benefits that would not be denied them had they been in a heterosexual relationship.