HUNTINGTON, N.Y. — An estimated 100,000 gay and lesbian service members were issued dishonorable or “undesirable” discharges between World War II and 1993 due to their sexual orientation, losing their military benefits as a result.
Now, less than two years after the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the former ban on openly gay service members, at least one U.S. congressman is hoping to right that wrong.
U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) announced legislation Saturday to repeal dishonorable discharges issued to gay service members, and to make sure those veterans get the recognition and benefits they deserve.
Israel announced the legislation in front of the reviewing stand for the Long Island Pride Parade in Huntington, N.Y., and was joined by Robert O. Hawkins Jr., a World War II veteran who was dishonorably discharged because he is gay, reported WCBS-TV.
Hawkins wanted his career to be in the military.
“I would have been an admiral by now,” he said.
But in 1962, when Hawkins was stationed in Florida, he received an ominous knock at his door.
“They said, ‘We have proof you are a homosexual, and you can either resign your commission or face a court martial,’” Hawkins said. “I resigned. I had no choice, really.”
Only recently was Hawkins, 75, able to get his discharge changed to honorable.
According to Aaron Belkin, an expert on gays in the U.S. military at the University of California, Los Angeles, prior to 1993, about 100,000 troops were given dishonorable discharges for being gay, which denied them veteran’s benefits, including medical care and a military burial.
Under the more relaxed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which allowed gays to serve as long as they kept their sexual orientation to themselves, about 14,000 troops were forced out, but most were given honorable discharges that allowed them to draw benefits.
Israel’s proposed legislation would change all those dishonorable discharges to honorable, allowing the veterans to receive medical and other benefits.
The repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” officially took effect Sept. 20, 2011.