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Biden Pardons LGBTQ+ Veterans, Addressing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Legacy

By Jake Beardslee · June 26, 2024

President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday his decision to pardon LGBTQ service members who were convicted under the military's former policy against homosexuality. This action coincides with the 9th anniversary of the landmark 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in the United States.  The White House / Wikimedia

In a post on X, Biden declared, "Today, I am righting an historic wrong by using my clemency authority to pardon many former service members who were convicted for simply being themselves." The President acknowledged the courage and sacrifice of thousands of LGBTQI+ service members who were forced out of the military due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.  @POTUS / X

The pardons specifically target those who were convicted or court-martialed under the notorious "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy, which was in effect from 1994 to 2011. DADT prohibited military personnel from discriminating against closeted homosexual or bisexual service members while barring openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual individuals from serving.  Diego González / Unsplash

During its 17-year tenure, DADT led to the discharge of over 35,000 service members, according to a recent lawsuit filed by five LGBTQ+ veterans who were discharged due to the policy. The repeal of DADT in 2011 allowed openly homosexual and bisexual individuals to serve, but it did not automatically address the consequences faced by those previously affected.  israel palacio / Unsplash

Veterans discharged under DADT often received other-than-honorable discharges, creating significant hurdles in their post-military lives. These individuals have been unable to re-enlist and are prevented from accessing services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs.  United States Department of Veterans Affairs / Wikimedia

The timing of Biden's announcement is particularly noteworthy, coming just days after a federal magistrate judge ruled that a lawsuit against the Department of Defense (DOD) over the discharges of gay veterans could proceed. The suit, filed by five LGBTQ veterans, seeks to upgrade their discharges to honorable and remove all references to sexual orientation from their discharge paperwork, according to The New Civil Rights Movement.  Office of the President of the United States / Wikimedia

Previously, affected veterans had to individually petition the government for updates to their discharge paperwork, a process described in the lawsuit as "burdensome, opaque, expensive, and for many veterans virtually inaccessible.  Matt Popovich from Washington, DC, United States / Wikimedia

Biden's statement did not specify the number of service members who would benefit from this clemency order.  Office of the President of the United States / Wikimedia

The President's action aligns with broader efforts to recognize and support LGBTQ rights. It falls on the anniversary of the 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.  Mattpopovich / Wikimedia