Restoring Honor to Service Members Discharged Under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

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June 21, 2013

The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) remains a major victory for lesbian, gay and bisexual service members. But the history of sexual orientation discrimination continues to tarnish the record of approximately 11,400 service members were discharged on the basis of their sexual orientation between World War II and the end of DADT in 2011.

That’s why Lambda Legal welcomes the Restore Honor to Service Members Act, a bill introduced by Rep. Mark Pocan, co-chairman of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, and Korean War veteran Rep. Charlie Rangel.

Under this bill, service members’ discharge would change from “dishonorable” to “honorable,” provided there were no aggravating circumstances. Paperwork would not include a service member’s sexual orientation as the reason for discharge. The bill would also formally repeal the language in the military code that makes sodomy illegal.

No longer would these service members be outed every time someone asks to see their discharge paperwork, nor would dishonorable discharges continue to cloud employment opportunities.

Lambda Legal has long worked for equality in the military. In 1975, we represented Ensign Vernon (Copy) Berg III, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, who was anonymously outed and subsequently discharged. The U.S. Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia ruled in Berg’s favor, holding that the Navy’s rules on homosexuality were too vague, and the Department of Defense eventually settled. Lambda Legal also advocated for the reinstatement of Col Margarthe Cammermeyer, a 28-year veteran of the Army and National Guard who received a Gold Star for her service in Vietnam. In 1992, Lambda Legal filed suit after she was discharged on the basis of her sexual orientation. A federal district court held that the pre-DADT ban violated the Equal Protection and Substantive Due Process provisions of the U.S. Constitution, and reinstated Col. Cammermeyer.