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OutServe Magazine | November 1, 2014

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Inspired by Courage, the Fight for Full Equality Marches Forward

Inspired by Courage, the Fight for Full Equality Marches Forward

Written by Aubrey Sarvis,
Army Veteran & SLDN Executive Director

From the earliest days of America’s founding, LGBT Americans have – with pride, distinction and bravery – served the country they love in defense of freedom. It is this legacy of service and sacrifice that has moved countless individuals to work to end the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law that resulted in the firing of more than 14,000 service members since 1993.

Veterans, supporters and allies have shared their stories, spoken out, and tirelessly mobilized over many years so that all qualified Americans may serve regardless of sexual orientation. Because of these collective efforts, passion and courage, we overturned DADT and achieved a historic milestone. As of September 20, 2011, repeal of this terrible law is done.

Yet many hurdles lie ahead and much work remains as we engage new fronts in the fight for full LGBT equality in the armed forces.

At Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), we will work on the outside to provide hands-on oversight of repeal implementation while also representing and defending service members who may face discrimination or harassment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Similarly, we will be prepared to litigate in the courts when necessary as we fight for legally married service members to receive the same benefits as their straight counterparts, even as we assist veterans to correct or upgrade their discharge paperwork.

We have urged President Obama to prohibit discrimination and harassment in the military based on sexual orientation and gender identity by issuing an Executive Order that would give LGBT service members recourse outside their chain of command. Recommending that the order go into effect on the date of DADT repeal – Tuesday, September 20, 2011 – SLDN first called for such an order in a February letter. We reiterated our call twice last month, first on the day of DADT repeal certification, then with an online petition launched through Change.org.

We have made the case for Special Boards to assist veterans harmed by “Don’t Ask” and the regulatory ban that came before it, and urged the Secretary of Defense and Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to establish such boards to address, in a fair and expeditious way, issues like correcting discharge paperwork and removing the “homosexual” characterization.

But the cornerstone of SLDN’s mission since our founding in 1993 has been to provide legal services to LGBT patriots – past and present – who are affected by DADT, as well as other forms of discrimination or harassment. Though the landscape in which these services will be provided will change following repeal, SLDN remains committed to helping service members, their families and veterans safely navigate the new terrain.

Indeed, since repeal legislation was signed in December 2010, we have received hundreds of calls from service members fired under DADT, as well as others who now want to serve their country. Questions range from those who wish to see their discharge paperwork changed or who want to apply for re-accession to the armed services, to others who have never served but want to join the military for the first time.

To answer these questions and more, SLDN unveiled Freedom to Serve: The Definitive Guide to LGBT Military Service – a first-of-its-kind comprehensive new legal guide for LGBT service members, their families, veterans, and future recruits. The guide provides an overview of laws and policies related to military service in the U.S. following DADT repeal, as well as practical information for advocates and friends of LGBT patriots. Addressing issues like standards of conduct, benefits, and discharge upgrades, it also enables members of the LGBT military community to better understand how to protect themselves if they are targeted on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

As we continue to advance LGBT equality in the military, SLDN and our coalition partners will remain on the frontlines. We are honored to fight alongside OutServe, and it is with pride and renewed determination that we carry on the march toward liberty and justice that inspired the pioneers of equality before us. Together, we will continue to change history.

For more information, or to seek legal guidance or services from SLDN, please visit http://www.slgn.org/.