In a significant move to address the historical discrimination faced by LGBTQ+ individuals in the military, openly gay Representative Mark Takano (D-CA) and other congressional members have put forth a proposal commemorating the 12th anniversary of the repeal of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy. This policy, enacted in 1994, prohibited gay and bisexual service members from openly serving in the military. The proposal, aptly named the “Commission on Equity and Reconciliation in the Uniformed Services Act,” aims to scrutinize the impact of DADT on both LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ military personnel.
Under this proposal, a 15-person commission would delve into the history of Department of Defense (DOD) actions regarding the policing of sexual orientation and gender identity within the military, dating back to World War II. This comprehensive examination will include testimonies and hearings on the far-reaching consequences of these policies, encompassing the physical, mental, psychological, financial, and professional well-being of discharged soldiers. Furthermore, the commission will explore how these policies affected straight soldiers, with a particular focus on women and people of color who were targeted based on their perceived queerness. The commission is committed to presenting its findings to Congress one year after its inaugural meeting.
Among the bill’s supporters are ten co-sponsors in the House, with Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Jeff Merkley (D-WA) co-sponsoring in the Senate. Representative Takano, a key figure in the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, remarked, “For decades, Americans made impossible choices of hiding their identity in order to serve our country. We are reintroducing this legislation on the anniversary of the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ – a reminder that the wounds of our nation’s history of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people are still fresh and require remedy.”
Simultaneously, the Department of Defense has announced its efforts to reach out to discharged military personnel, rectify their documents, and restore lost benefits. These benefits include home loans, healthcare, GI Bill tuition assistance, and even government job opportunities. Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks emphasized that this action acknowledges the past injustices faced by LGBTQ+ service members, recognizing that correcting their records is a step toward justice, albeit not a complete remedy for the harm done.
The repeal of DADT in 2011 marked a significant milestone, but it took years of advocacy and activism to achieve. A report from 2021, commissioned by the heads of the U.S. military, affirmed that the repeal had no detrimental effects on military readiness, effectiveness, or unit cohesion, dispelling earlier concerns. However, the data reveals that over 32,000 service members were discharged due to their sexual orientation since 1980, underscoring the importance of the proposed commission’s mission to address the lingering effects of DADT’s discriminatory policies.
As the United States grapples with its historical treatment of LGBTQ+ service members, this commission represents a crucial step toward equity and reconciliation within the armed forces, seeking to ensure that all veterans are recognized and supported regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.