Guest Blogger

Think LGBT Soldiers Are Equal Post-DADT? Think Again!

Filed By Guest Blogger | February 04, 2014 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Army, DADT, DADT repeal, Don't Ask Don't Tell, military, nondiscrimination policy, Rob Smith, transgender military, veterans

Editor's Note:: Guest blogger Rob Smith is an openly gay 5-year Iraq War veteran, writer, lecturer, and LGBT activist. His work has been published by USA Today, CNN.com, Salon.com, The Advocate, and the Huffington Post.


rob-smith-book-cover.jpgIn my new book, Closets, Combat, and Coming Out: Coming of Age as a Gay Man in the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Army, I write about the five years I spent as an infantry soldier in the Army from the ages of seventeen to twenty-two. I was a poor black gay kid from Ohio who entered the military right out of high school as my only means of getting a college education.

While I suffered silently under "Don't Ask Don't Tell," I also survived the policy, earning an honorable discharge and much-needed benefits. However, thousands of my fellow LGBT soldiers were not so lucky. Not only did they suffer the humiliation of a dishonorable discharge, but they were also stripped of the very same hard-earned benefits I received, and the consequences have been dire.

Additionally, though the repeal of DADT allows LGB (no T) soldiers to openly serve, it is not, in fact, a nondiscrimination policy: harassment remains common and transgender soldiers can still be dishonorably discharged.

I'm betting most Americans, gay and straight, just assumed the repeal of DADT has leveled the playing field for LGBT soldiers and discrimination is now legally a thing of the past. For every Facebook photo of a smiling LGBT soldier there are hundreds of veterans and active LGBT soldiers living in fear.

That these LGBT soldiers have been forgotten since DADT repeal was implemented is a bitter reminder of how much mainstream America continues to forget its veterans.

I get angry when I realize that while our LGB (no T) soldiers can now serve openly, they remain unprotected by a nondiscrimination policy. I get angry when I realize that transgender soldiers still cannot serve openly and can be dishonorably discharged for being who they are. I get angry when I realize that thousands of soldiers who were dishonorably discharged because of DADT are now unable to claim the educational and healthcare benefits which they are rightfully owed in exchange for serving their country.

LGBT veterans who were dishonorably discharged - already at a greater risk of unemployment, homelessness and suicide due to PTSD-related mental health issues - now find themselves abandoned by the very government under which they served and in many cases, suffered.

While the fight for marriage equality continues to dominate the conversation in the LGBT community and mainstream media, we've turned our backs on our LGBT soldiers and veterans. DADT may be over and dead, but we must remain vigilant in the fight against LGBT inequality in the military, because our soldiers and veterans are still at risk.

rob-smith-headshot.pngOrganizations like OutServe-SLDN, created to help thousands of these veterans challenge their dishonorable discharges and claim the benefits they are owed, find themselves struggling to obtain funding due to the overwhelming misconception that, since DADT was repealed, our LGBT soldiers and vets no longer need our help.

Thankfully, legislation has been introduced to change that. The "Restore Honor To Service Members Act" has been introduced by Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii, and we must make as much noise in support of this act as we did in fighting for the repeal of DADT.

My quality of life is helped tremendously by the benefits that I still receive from the VA based on my service. I have healthcare provided by the VA. This includes mental healthcare, thanks to a wonderful organization called The Soldiers Project that connects veterans with professionals who volunteer their services.

Because my honorable discharge gave me the educational benefits I'd counted on receiving, I was able to get the college degree I desired and continue my education at the graduate level. These are all benefits that continue to be robbed from the soldiers who were dishonorably discharged under DADT - benefits that they must now tragically fight to receive.

It is important to remember that as long as there is no nondiscrimination policy in regards to sexual orientation in the U.S. military, as long as transgender soldiers cannot serve openly, and as long as thousands of soldiers fight for their rightful benefits, the fight for LGBT equality in the military is not over.

DADT repeal may have won the battle, but it did not win the war: We must not forget our military brothers and sisters in - or out of - uniform.


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