‘I had to stand up in court and give gory details’: Why Biden’s gay veterans pardon is so important

A US air force veteran who was discharged for being gay and served time in prison for consensual gay sex has expressed his relief at the recent pardon issued by president Joe Biden.

Biden published a presidential proclamation on Wednesday (26 June) which issued a “full, complete, and unconditional pardon” to thousands of LGBTQ+ veterans who were convicted under Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which criminalised sodomy, including between consenting adults, between 1951 and 2013.

Following news of the pardons, former USAF officer Steve Marose told the BBC: “I can pretend that ‘Oh, I’m resilient,’ you know, ‘I got this’ But in the end, it’s trauma. I’m just glad the day has come.”

Felony record

Marose said his conviction in the 1980s when he was just 24 left him with a felony record and had had a huge impact on his life after his left the military. He had pay back college fees, was prevented from getting certain jobs and faced restrictions to travel.

“They do background checks every time I’ve changed jobs, and I had to dig it all up again and show them this is what it was: this is what the charges were, this is the outcome. It kind of just hangs over me in that regard,” he reflected.

According to a report in the Seattle Times in 1993, performance reviews described Marose as an “efficient, enthusiastic and innovative leader whose proposals saved the Air Force time and money. Superiors praised his performance.” Another report also noted Marose’s positive influence on morale.

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However, the Air Force learned he was homosexual and began a six-month investigation. He told the Seattle Times that his friends were questioned and he was followed, even to Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

“I had to stand up in court and give intimate, gory details of everything that happened – scientific names of parts, where they went and to what point. All this in front of my friends. I started to cry, not over what I did, but of having to describe it in front of other people. I felt like dirt,” he said in 1993.

During the trial, two supervisors testified on his behalf, the Seattle Times reports. It didn’t help and he was sent to prison.

“I was scared to death,” he told his interviewer in 1993. “I didn’t know what would happen to me. I didn’t know if people would rape me or beat me up.”

You can watch a more recent 2023 interview on CBS with Steve Marose here.

President Biden’s pardon is estimated to affect about 2,000 veterans and, while it doesn’t automatically change their records, it will allow them to apply for a certificate of pardon, after which they can get their discharge status changed.

Speaking on Wednesday, the president said the move was “righting an historic wrong” which resulted in LGBTQ+ service people convicted and discharged “simply for being themselves”.

He went on to say: “Despite their courage and great sacrifice, thousands of LGBTQ+ service members were forced out of the military because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Some of these patriotic Americans were subject to court-martial and have carried the burden of this great injustice for decades.”

US army member
Joe Biden has pardoned thousands of LGBTQ+ veterans. (Canva)

Biden told CNN the pardons were about “dignity, decency and ensuring the culture of our armed forces reflect the values that make us an exceptional nation”.

Among those to have had their convictions overturned are victims of the so-called Lavender Scare, a 1950s witch-hunt in which LGBTQ+ federal employees were viewed as security risks because their sexual orientation supposedly made them vulnerable to blackmail. Thousands were investigated and fired, while others were denied employment.

GLAAD chief executive Sarah Kate Ellis responded to the news by saying: “[This is an] important signal not only to the thousands of brave LGBTQ Americans who deserved better for defending our country, but to all who understand that diversity, respect and inclusion are American values.

“Thank you, president Biden, for righting this historic wrong and taking a strong stand in support of the LGBTQ community. No one should be punished or lose their job simply because of who they are or who they love.”

The pardons were also welcomed by Human Rights Watch, the Union Veterans Council and UK LGBTQ+ rights activist Peter Tatchell.

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