Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: Joe Biden Pardons Veterans Convicted Under Anti-LGBT Policy

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: Joe Biden Pardons Veterans Convicted Under Anti-LGBT Policy
Image: US President Joe Biden. Image: White House/Twitter

President Joe Biden has pardoned thousands of US veterans who were convicted under the military law that banned gay sex and homosexuality, including horrific anti-LGBTQI+ eras like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell or the Lavender Scare.

The presidential proclamation allows convicted LGBTQI+ service members to apply for a certificate of pardon.

It will allow clemency to serving members of the military under Uniform Code of Military Justice article 125 between 1951 and 2013.

This mean that once a veteran has received their certificate of pardon, apply to the relevant military branch for a change in their discharge status (many were dismissed with ‘dishonourable’ discharge status), receive post-service financial benefits, or even reapply to the military should they wish to.

“Today, I am righting an historic wrong by using my clemency authority to pardon many former service members who were convicted simply for being themselves,” Biden said in a statement.

“Despite their courage and great sacrifice, thousands of LGBTQ+ service members were forced out of the military because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Some of these patriotic Americans were subject to court-martial, and have carried the burden of this great injustice for decades.”

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Lavender Scare

This pardon includes particularly well-known periods of time in America’s military history where LGBTQI+ people were discriminated against, like the Lavender Scare, or Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

The Lavender Scare

The Lavender Scare was during the era of Eisenhower in the 1950s, and saw a national witch hunt for homosexual men and women who were federal government workers.

These people were investigated by the state, and if found or outed, were dismissed from their jobs on the basis of their sexuality.

It was an anti-communist campaign, led by Republican Joseph McCarthy. He reasoned that LGBTQI+ federal employees were security risks, and their sexual orientation meant they were vulnerable to blackmail.

Thousands – estimated between 5,000 and 10,000 – either lost, or were denied, employment.

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

The Bill Clinton policy of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ was a military order that said people could be LGBTQI+ and service in the military – they just had to keep it on the down low.

The policy prohibited military personnel from discriminating against or harassing closeted LGBTQI people in the military, but also prohibited any LGBTQI+ person from disclosing their sexual orientation or from speaking about any same-sex relationships, including their marriages or families, while serving.

If they did, or were outed to commanding officers by fellow service members, they faced dishonourable discharges – meaning they could not get any benefits, or serve again.

It became policy in 1994, and was repealed on September 20, 2011 – and Australia had led by example.

The policy was in direct response to the murder of a gay Navy petty officer, Allen R. Schindler Jr., in 1992. It was enacted to try to curb the rampant homophobia and discrimination in the military, and supporters touted it as a way for LGBTQI+ people to serve in the military.

But the policy ended up creating witch hunts and terrorised queer people in the military, as well as denied them benefits they deserved, and the name ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ has become synonymous with discrimination itself.

Over the course of its 17 years of existence, thousands of service members were discharged (most dishonourably) simply for who they were and whom they loved.

Joe Biden has fought for this for years

Biden has been passionate about this issue for years, and was instrumental working on the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell during his time as Vice President to President Barack Obama.

“Important to note that the president has been instrumental in remedying this historical injustice through action. Even dating back to his role as vice-president, President Biden played a key role during the Obama-Biden administration to effectuate the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’,” said a A National Security Council official.

“Last fall, he also directed the Department of Defense to announce a proactive review of the military records of former service members who were discharged because of their sexual orientation, recognising that some of these individuals are difficult to get a hold of, and may not even know their eligibility for a review of the conditions of their discharge.”

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