News (USA)

LGBTQ+ veterans sue Defense Department to overturn their dishonorable discharges

Shoulder of a soldier wearing a rainbow flag patch on his uniform
Photo: Shutterstock

A group of five veterans has filed a civil rights suit against the Department of Defense (DOD) for failing to overturn their dishonorable discharges in the wake of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” as well as failing to update discriminatory language on their discharge papers that references their “real or perceived” sexuality.

The lawsuit opens with a story of the gravestone of Vietnam War veteran Leonard Matlovich, which it says reads: “When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”

Discharges that are anything but honorable often bar veterans from access to key benefits, such as healthcare, education, unemployment, and housing benefits offered through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

“Thousands of veterans discharged for their actual or perceived sexual orientation often received a less than Honorable discharge or had their discharge flagged with separation codes publicly associated with ‘homosexuality,’ denying them benefits they rightfully earned based on their service,” the lawsuit states.

Veterans are also often asked to produce their DD-214 forms when applying for jobs, apartments, and loans.

“Every time they have to show that document they are essentially outed involuntarily,” Jocelyn Larkin, one of the lawyers on the case, told CBS News. “This case is not about damages [and in fact it is not seeking any money for the plaintiffs]. This case is about simply changing that piece of paper because the effect of changing that piece of paper is so incredibly consequential for our clients.”

The lawsuit states that the DOD has violated the constitutional rights of LGBTQ+ veterans, who it says have been forced to “bear the stigma and discriminatory effects of carrying indicators of their sexual orientation on their DD-214s, and then navigate a broken record correction process to seek resolution.”

While there is a process for having dishonorable discharges changed, the lawsuit argues the burden should be on the DOD to simply upgrade the discharges without the veterans needing to engage in a long and confusing bureaucratic process.

Larkin said she believes the lawsuit could help approximately 35,000 LGBTQ+ veterans who were dishonorably discharged due to their sexuality under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

One of the plaintiffs – 62-year-old Sherrill Farrell – has big plans for her DD-214 papers if she wins the suit.

“My plan is once they change my discharge, I’m going to frame both of those DD-214s and hang them up because I want the world to know that — or the country to know — that I was willing to serve and die for my country. The kids today don’t know. The ones that have the benefits, they don’t know what some of us went through for them to have these benefits. And it’s time for them to know.” 

The DOD told CBS it “has conducted several outreach campaigns to inform all veterans who believe they have suffered an error or injustice.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said that he encouraged those who were unjustly discharged to contact their branch’s board of correction of military records to rectify the situation.

Don't forget to share:

Support vital LGBTQ+ journalism

Reader contributions help keep LGBTQ Nation free, so that queer people get the news they need, with stories that mainstream media often leaves out. Can you contribute today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated

ChatGPT wrote a Bible verse about Jesus accepting trans people & it’s gone viral

Previous article

Museum of Pop Culture removes JK Rowling’s name from exhibit & calls her “a joy-sucking entity”

Next article