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Judge Says Gay Vets Can Sue DOD Over ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Discharges

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A U.S. magistrate judge ruled that LGBTQ veterans discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” can proceed in their suit against the Department of Defense.

The suit, filed by five veterans, alleges that they faced discrimination because they were given other-than-honorable discharges from the military. The vets are asking the DOD to remove all references to sexual orientation from their discharge paperwork and for the discharges to be converted to honorable.

The plaintiffs say that the process to correct discharge paperwork is “burdensome, opaque, expensive, and for many veterans virtually inaccessible.” By having non-honorable discharges, LGBTQ vets are unable to reenlist. It’s also difficult for them to prove military service, the plaintiffs say, and they are blocked from veteran services via the Department of Veterans Affairs.

READ MORE: ‘So. Tell Me. Are You Transgender?’ — After DADT: Transgender Life In The US Military

“Because of the circumstances and language of my discharge, which served as a painful reminder of the trauma I experienced, I was never able to proudly say that I served my country,” said Steven Egland, a U.S. Army veteran and one of the plaintiffs.

“Following my Other Than Honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy, which was accompanied by terrible harassment on my ship, I experienced homelessness and shame,” Lilly Steffanides, another plaintiff and U.S. Navy Veteran, said. “After many years, I reconnected with the veteran community and do my best to act as a leader and supporter for other LGBTQ+ veterans like me. I am joining this lawsuit because I want justice for my LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters, and I want my service to my country to be recognized as honorable.”

The DOD argued that the suit should be dismissed because the process for correcting records is neutral. Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero disagreed, saying that by not remedying this type of discharge, it “gives rise to a plausible inference of discriminatory intent,” according to Bloomberg Law.

The DOD also argued that the plaintiffs’ claims were untimely. Spero disagreed, ruling that the process of having to apply for their records to be corrected itself results in trauma, Bloomberg Law reported.

The suit says over 35,000 members of the U.S. military had been discharged for real or perceived homosexual behavior between 1980 and 2011, the year the homosexuality restriction was lifted. The original memorandum repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” said it was unnecessary to update the discharge paperwork for those thrown out of the military by the policy, according to Bloomberg Law.

In February 2024, the DOD said that it was working to upgrade LGBTQ vets’ discharges to honorable, according to DAV.org.

 

 

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LGBT

Biden Offers Gay Vets Clemency Following Green Light for DOD Lawsuit

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President Joe Biden said he was using his clemency authority to pardon LGBTQ service members who were convicted of violating the military policy against homosexuality. This comes less than a week after a magistrate judge ruled a lawsuit against the Department of Defense over the discharges of gay veterans could move forward.

Biden issued a statement on X Wednesday morning announcing the decision.

“Today, I am righting an historic wrong by using my clemency authority to pardon many former service members who were convicted for simply being themselves,” the statement read. “Despite their courage and great sacrifice, thousands of LGBTQI+ service members were forced out of the military because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

READ MORE: After Six Decades, Lesbian Veteran’s Military Discharge Finally Upgraded to ‘Honorable’

In this case, clemency only applies to those who were convicted or court-martialed.

While in 1993, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy went into effect, LGBTQ service members could serve while in the closet. Their superiors could not ask if they were gay, but they could not disclose it themselves, either. Those who came out would be discharged, usually with other-than-honorable discharges.

However, sodomy was still criminalized in the U.S. military, meaning that service members could be court-martialed and convicted if they had homosexual sex. Biden’s order affects these service members.

The order will also apply to service members who have since died, according to NBC News.

This follows the ruling on Friday from Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero that a lawsuit filed by five LGBTQ veterans against the DOD could proceed. The five veterans were suing to upgrade their discharges to honorable and remove all references to sexual orientation from their discharge paperwork.

Veterans who were given other-than-honorable discharges face a number of hurdles. They are unable to re-enlist, even now that the rule they violated is no longer in effect. They are also blocked from accessing services from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In February, the DOD said it was working to upgrade LGBTQ veterans’ discharges to honorable. However, it didn’t provide a timeline. Up until that point, veterans had to explicitly petition the government to have their discharge paperwork updated. The update process was described in the suit as “burdensome, opaque, expensive, and for many veterans virtually inaccessible.”

In 2011, the year “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was lifted, the memorandum doing so said that it was unnecessary to automatically update discharge paperwork for vets thrown out by the policy. However, it was only two years later when the Uniform Code of Military Justice was updated to remove its ban on sodomy.

Biden’s statement did not reveal a number of service members who would be affected by his order. According to the lawsuit, over 35,000 members of the U.S. military had been discharged under the ban on homosexuality between 1980 and 2011.

Biden’s clemency order falls on the 9th anniversary of the landmark 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges legalizing same-sex marriage in the United States.

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US Ambassador to Hungary Slams Orbán After Being Blocked From Speaking at Parliament

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David Pressman, the openly gay U.S. ambassador to Hungary had harsh words for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at a Pride event. The speech came after the cancellation of an event about human rights scheduled to take place at the parliament building.

On Saturday, the ambassador to Hungary held a family Pride event at his home. During his speech, Pressman slammed Orbán and his government for using a “machinery of fear” as an apparatus to crush the LGBTQ community, according to the Guardian. He shared a story of how the country’s state-run media implied that he was a danger to children.

“At a Pride march organised by Hungarians in Pécs last year, I walked alongside a friend, fellow ambassador, and fellow parent,” Pressman said. “The cameras of the government-controlled media were trained on me – as they are right now – and filmed us as he introduced me to his 5-year-old child.

“The news that evening reported on ‘spotting’ my interaction with this child, and sinisterly described that I was seen ‘interacting with children’. They didn’t need to finish the sentence – they let fear do the rest.”

READ MORE: Republicans Are Secretly Meeting With Allies of ‘Putin’s Buddy’ Orbán to End Ukraine Aid: Report

The ambassador to Hungary had prepared the speech for a planned LGBTQ human rights event on June 21 at the parliament building. The event had been planned by Dávid Bedő, the chairman of the centrist opposition party, Momentum, according to The Daily Beast. Bedő had put in a request for the event, which was to take place in a meeting room, not on the floor of the parliament.

The speaker of the parliament, László Kövér, ignored the request until pressed. The day before the event was scheduled, Kövér denied the request, citing a bylaw that said the speaker must “protect the dignity of the parliament.” Kövér is one of the co-founders with Orbán of the far-right Fidesz party.

This Saturday was Budapest Pride, according to Pink News. The march brought out over 30,000 people, including Pressman. Homosexuality is technically legal in Hungary, but in 2021, Orbán’s government passed a law similar to Russia’s ban on LGBTQ “propaganda.” In the face of sanctions from the EU, Orbán refused to relent.

Two years ago, Orbán attended CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, in Texas. His speech condemned the LGBTQ community.

“Hungary shall protect the institution of marriage as a union of one man and one woman,” he said at the time. “Family ties shall be based on marriage or the relationship between parents and children. To sum up, the mother is a woman. The father is a man. And leave our kids alone. Full stop. End of discussion.”

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Republican Gov. Mike DeWine Vetoes Anti-Trans Bill After Talking to Families With Trans Kids

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Mike DeWine

Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio became only the second Republican to ever veto a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for minors. He made his decision after traveling to children’s hospitals and talking to families that would be affected by the bill.

DeWine vetoed the bill, Sub. H.B. No. 68, Friday morning. Not only would the bill ban transgender athletes from competing on teams matching their gender expression, the AP reports, it also would stop trans kids from receiving puberty blockers, hormone therapy or gender-alignment surgeries—even though the last of these is extremely rare in minors.

DeWine told the AP last week that he had just been to three children’s hospitals in the state to learn more about the realities of trans health care for minors. He also spoke to families with trans youth, according to NBC News.

READ MORE: Federal Judge Issues Injunction on Idaho Anti-Trans Law Days Before It Takes Effect

“We’re dealing with children who are going through a challenging time, families that are going through a challenging time,” DeWine told the AP. “I want, the best I can, to get it right.”

After vetoing the bill, he said that decisions about gender-affirming care “should not be made by the government,” but families and doctors, NBC News reported.

“This bill would impact a very small number of Ohio’s children,” DeWine said Friday, according to Axios. “But for those children who face gender dysphoria and for their families, the consequences of this bill could not be more profound.”

Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas is the only other Republican governor to veto a similar bill banning gender-affirming care for minors. Hutchinson, who is also running for the presidential nomination for his party, vetoed the bill in April 2021, telling NPR he thought it was “too extreme.”

“It was too broad, and it did not grandfather in those young people who are currently under hormone treatment. And so this really puts a very vulnerable population in a more difficult position. It sends the wrong signal to them,” Hutchinson told the radio network at the time.

“But also in my veto, I wanted to say to my Republican friends and colleagues that we’ve got to rethink our engagement in every aspect of the cultural wars,” he added. “The Republican Party that I grew up with believed in a restrained government that did not jump in the middle of every issue.”

Unfortunately, Hutchinson’s veto was overridden by the Arkansas legislature. A similar fate may await DeWine’s veto. Ohio’s legislature has a Republican supermajority, and only one Republican, Senator Nathan Manning of Northeast Ohio, voted against the bill when it was initially passed, according to the AP. State senators need a three-fifths majority to overturn the veto.

 

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