Although “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the transgender military ban are history now, LGBTQ+ service members and veterans continue to struggle, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress.
Analyzing data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Federal Reserve Board, CAP found that “the roughly 79,000 LGBT individuals currently serving in the armed forces — and an estimated 1 million LGBT veterans — face higher levels of economic insecurity, housing instability, and mental health concerns than their non-LGBT counterparts,” says the report, released Thursday.
That is due in part to the legacy of discriminatory policies. Under “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which was in place from 1994 to 2011 and replaced an even harsher policy, an estimated 14,000 lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members received less-than-honorable discharges. That can create barriers to finding employment and accessing benefits. Since DADT ended, those discharged under the policy have been allowed to apply for discharge upgrades, “but the immense difficulty in accessing the necessary records and the potential need for legal representation means that fewer than 500 veterans have made the request,” CAP notes.
Many employers turn away vets who do not have an honorable discharge, plus there is the anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination that remains legal in many states. CAP urges the passage of the Equality Act, which would ban such discrimination nationwide. It has been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and has the support of President Joe Biden, but it has yet to come to a vote in the Senate. “Passing the Equality Act is one important way to strengthen and expand federal civil rights laws to ensure comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for our LGBTQ veterans and service members, as well as LGBTQ communities at large,” Caroline Medina, a senior policy analyst with the LGBTQI+ Research and Communications Project at CAP, said in a statement to The Advocate.
The Biden administration has given veterans discharged under DADT the opportunity to receive veterans’ benefits without a discharge upgrade, something CAP calls “an important step forward.” However, the burdens of serving under the policy meant that some armed forces members “were effectively pushed out of service before they became eligible to receive benefits — many of which are only available to veterans who served two or more years,” according to the CAP report.
CAP found many indicators of economic insecurity among LGBTQ+ veterans. They were twice as likely to receive unemployment benefits as their straight and cisgender counterparts and were more likely to report being unable to pay some bills. Active-duty LGBTQ+ service members also reported difficulty in covering food or housing costs to a greater degree than those who are straight or cisgender.
Those on active duty said they still face barriers to promotion despite the end of discriminatory policies. The report notes instances of service members having anti-LGBTQ+ stereotypes used against them; some have been told they “aren’t masculine enough to serve.” Such attitudes mean LGBTQ+ people are passed over for promotion, and they result in bullying and even sexual assault as well. Service members living with HIV likewise face discrimination, and intersex individuals aren’t allowed in the military at all, CAP points out.
Mental health concerns were also far more common among LGBTQ+ military members than straight and cisgender ones. There was a significantly higher rate of depression among LGBTQ+ active-duty troops, yet many did not have access to counseling. And LGBTQ+ veterans “attempt suicide at a rate 15 times higher than veterans overall,” CAP reports.
“More than one decade after the repeal of DADT, LGBTQ+ service members continue to encounter significant harassment and discrimination that often bars them from career advancement, affects their housing and food security, and compromises their mental and physical health,” the report concludes. “For LGBTQ+ veterans, the legacy of DADT can limit access to necessary housing and health care assistance, leaving them unable to pay bills and without access to treatment for mental health and substance use problems. The Senate must pass the Equality Act to combat the widespread discrimination that LGBTQ+ service members and veterans face.”