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Federal judge rules that LGBTQ+ veterans can sue Pentagon over 'don’t ask, don’t tell' discharges

dont ask dont tell usa army soldier rainbow tape over mouth
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The wrongs committed by the Department of Defense against LGBTQ+ service members have yet to be fully addressed.

Cwnewser

A federal judge inCalifornia has ruled that a lawsuit brought byLGBTQ+ veterans against theDepartment of Defense will move forward. The forward momentum of the suit, which claims the Pentagon has failed to discharge LGBTQ+ service members honorably post-don’t ask, don’t tell, marks a significant victory for those caught up in the homophobic policy.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero’s decision allows the plaintiffs to argue that the process of correcting their discharge papers is not only lengthy but also re-traumatizing, Reutersreports. These veterans, discharged under discriminatory policies, contend that being forced to navigate a complex system to amend their records violates their constitutional rights to equal protection and due process.

The class action, filed in the Northern District of California, aims to mandate the Defense Department to proactively update the discharge statuses of LGBTQ+ veterans. Lawyers for the plaintiffs celebrated the ruling, noting its importance during Pride Month as a step towards rectifying past injustices.

The lawsuit highlights the struggles of veterans who have been unfairly labeled with less-than-honorable discharges. Such discharges can prevent them from accessing crucial benefits, including healthcare, loans, job opportunities, and tuition assistance. The discharge papers often explicitly state the reason for their discharge, effectively outing them whenever they need to present their military records.

Related: Gay Democratic reps demand Pentagon resolve cases of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ dishonorable discharges

“Requiring LGBTQ+ veterans to first bear the stigma and discriminatory effects of carrying indicators of sexual orientation on their DD-214s, and then navigate a broken record correction process to seek resolution, violates their constitutional rights,” thelawsuit states.

While the Pentagon cited an existing procedure for discharge upgrades, Spero noted that this process might need to be revised and could perpetuate discrimination. The Pentagon argued that a two-page application process exists for veterans seeking discharge corrections, claiming that legal representation is unnecessary and that most cases are resolved within ten months. However, the plaintiffs argue that the process is opaque and burdensome, often requiring legal assistance and forcing veterans to relive their traumatic experiences.

In January, three gay Democratic U.S. congressmen — California Rep. Robert Garcia, Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan, and New Hampshire Rep. Chris Pappas — sent aletter to the Department of Defense,urging a quicker response to resolve cases of LGBTQ+ service members dishonorably discharged under DADT and the outright ban that preceded it. Garcia, Pocan, and Pappas emphasized the moral obligation of the U.S. government to correct these wrongs and restore honor to LGBTQ+ veterans. “Our service members made the ultimate sacrifice to defend our country. ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was a policy that should have never existed in the first place, but we’re unfortunately still feeling the repercussions of it to this day,” Garcia said in a press release.

The case, Farrell v. U.S. Department of Defense, seeks to address the systemic issues within the department by ensuring that all veterans discharged under DADT and similar policies receive the honorable discharges they deserve. This move could affect thousands of veterans who served their country but were discharged due to their sexual orientation.

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Christopher Wiggins

Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).
Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).