LGBTQ+ veterans sue Pentagon over ‘ongoing discrimination’

The Pentagon draped in rainbow colours as an army man salutes

A group of LGBTQ+ veterans, who were kicked out of the US army because of their sexuality, have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Defense Department, demanding to be granted honourable discharges. 

On Tuesday (8 August), the class action lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California on behalf of five veterans.

The class action lawsuit asks not for money, but to upgrade the veterans’ discharge papers and remove all indicators of sexual orientation. 

An honourable discharge, with which the majority of military personnel leave the service, means they did their assigned job in a diligent and competent manner, followed the rules and obeyed the law. The veterans are then entitled to all the benefits available, including home loan assistance and retirement pay.

Many who served under anti-LGBTQ+ policies like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” were denied honourable discharge because of their sexuality.

Documents seen by CBS News claim the Pentagon failed to grant the five plaintiffs honourable discharges, or remove biased language specifying their sexuality from their service records, following the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2010 under then present Barack Obama, meaning they were deprived of full benefits. 

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The five plaintiffs claim the Pentagon’s failure to correct this “ongoing discrimination” represents a violation of constitutional rights.

Each time they show their discharge papers – including when applying for jobs – they are “essentially being outed involuntary”, said Jocelyn Larkin, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs.

The suit says: “Requiring LGBTQ+ veterans to first bear the stigma and discriminatory effects of carrying indicators of sexual orientation on their [discharge papers], then navigate a broken record-correction process to seek resolution, violates their constitutional rights to equal protection, informational privacy, property and due process protected by the Fourteenth and Fifth Amendments to the US constitution.” 

A Pentagon spokesperson told CBS that the Defense Department couldn’t comment on pending litigation, but in an earlier statement said the military has an existing two-page application for veterans seeking to change their discharge and so legal representation is not needed. 

According to the department, its discharge review board aims to finalise 90 per cent of cases within 10 months, as required by statute.

The response has been deemed “constitutionally inadequate” by the plaintiffs because it places the burden on the individual to obtain personal records before they can begin to file an application. 

A 2021 report into “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” – which protected closeted LGBTQ+ members of the military but banned anyone openly queer from joining – found that Pentagon concerns about LGBTQ+ troops and their role in the military were vastly overblown.