By MEUSA Military/Veteran Community Liaison Ty Redhouse
Our nation’s LGBT veterans and service members have witnessed much progress in the past year. From the magnificent shift to a post-DADT world to the downfall of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), attention has focused on our men and women presently serving in the Armed Forces. What many in the media overlook are those who have served and who are LGBT.
Following the mainstream press, one could easily conclude there are not many of us out there. If this is the assumption, it is incorrect. In fact, there are more than one million LGBT veterans in the United States and that number keeps growing. It is those individuals who fall through the cracks when the push for equality is highlighted, particularly in the scope of marriage equality.
This historic Veterans Day marks the first time we do not have “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), both of which severely hindered the progress of American society. In 2011, we saw DADT pass out of the ranks of the military with little to no homage to the fearful predictions of the conservative pundits. There was no mass exodus and our nation’s military continued on in its mission. The only difference; a more open environment and more integrity because we no longer had to hide ourselves to keep our jobs.
Since my honorable discharge from the USAF in 2006, I have come to understand and appreciate the meaning of Veterans Day. With each year that has passed, I have developed an enhanced comprehension of just what we, those who choose to give our lives over to defend the country, put on the line so our families and friends can rest easier.
As a gay veteran, I have seen dramatic changes in the short time DADT has been off the books. My active duty brethren and sistren can now serve openly and proudly. For some that were reinstated, they thrive and serve ever more proudly than before. I felt their happiness but was left wondering what there was for the veterans, the many who either left or were drummed from the ranks under DADT or before.
To date, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been less than clear regarding their application of post-DOMA federal law. This ambiguity leaves us wondering about a system that has long left us out of the loop. Recently, I went to a medical appointment with my partner at the local VA medical facility. We held hands and did what any other veteran and loved one would do. I was a silent bundle of nerves. As we walked the halls, that weird DADT-era fear came creeping back in. This fear made me realize that there is still a lot of work to be done. If that fear still resided in me after all that has happened in favor of our LGBT community, it must be so for the many who are not yet comfortable coming out to their VA providers.
The presence of LGBT-friendly resources for LGBT veterans is more vital than before, especially since DADT and DOMA have been rescinded. As Marriage Equality USA’s (MEUSA) Military/Veteran Community Liaison, it has been one of my duties to ensure there is access to those resources. Here are a few:
- American Military Partners Association (AMPA): The nation’s premier resource and support network for LGBT military partners, spouses and their families. Founded by the partners of active duty servicemembers, AMPA has grown to nearly 4,000 members with thousands more supporters and is proud to be leading the effort to connect, support, honor, and serve our modern military families.
- American Veterans for Equal Rights (AVER): A non-profit, non-partisan, chapter-based Veterans Service Organization of active, reserve, and veteran service members dedicated to full and equal rights and equitable treatment for all present and former members of the U.S. Armed Forces, especially the LGBT current and prior military personnel who have been historically disenfranchised by armed forces policy and discriminatory laws governing military service and benefits.
- OutServe/SLDN: A non-partisan association of actively serving LGBT military personnel offering legal services and acting as a watchdog and policy organization dedicated to bringing about full LGBT equality to America’s military and ending all forms of discrimination and harassment of military personnel on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Service members, Partners, Allies for Respect and Tolerance for All (SPARTA): The mission of this organization is to advocate for and support our actively serving LGBT military members and veterans and their families while working to ensure the military provides equal opportunity for all service members regardless of race, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.
This Veterans Day, take a moment to thank a veteran for his or her service. Also, take a moment to think of the men and women who are abroad putting their lives at risk so we can rest easy at home. Now, take it further and think about the partners/husbands/wives of those LGBT Servicemembers out there who wait for their loved ones to return. Or the LGBT veteran who walks for the first time into the hospital hand in hand with his or her partner, a silent bundle of nerves waiting to be called out and shot down. Most importantly, thank a veteran. You could be the one person who makes his or her day.