Today individuals, organizations, and businesses are thanking those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. As we honor and celebrate our veterans, we cannot lose sight of the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) service members and the barriers they still face while on active duty or upon their return. Veterans experience a distinct set of challenges, including finding adequate health care, housing, and employment. The LGBT veteran population, in particular, is over one million and when factors such as race, gender identity, and/or sexual orientation are compounded, this group is often at higher risk of being discriminated against due to poverty, lack of support from family and friends, substance use or mental health hurdles. ELIXHER provides a snapshot of the realities of Black lesbian, bi, and trans women in the armed forces — and how you can help.
1. Transgender Americans serve at a high rate. In 2011, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) went into effect in the U.S. military allowing gay, lesbian, and bisexual men and women to serve openly. The repeal, however, did not extend to transgender military service. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS) found that transgender Americans serve in the military at a high rate. In fact, 20 percent of NTDS respondents had served in the armed forces as compared to 10 percent of the U.S. general population.
2. Lesbians are 3 times more likely to serve in the military than other women. A study from the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) found that the number of military personnel discharged as a result of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” were disproportionately women, African Americans, Latinos and Asians. In 2008, Black women totaled less than 1 percent of service members but represented 3.3 percent of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” discharges; women totaled only 15 percent of service members but 34 percent of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” discharges, reports Diversity Inc.
3. Transgender veterans have worse life outcomes than their non-veteran counterparts. According to the Center for American Progress, 36 percent of transgender veteran and service members lost a job due to anti-trans bias compared to 24 percent of their nonmilitary counterparts. Fifty-three percent of trans vets and service members were not hired for a job due to anti-trans bias while 42 percent of their civilian counterparts did not get a job because of anti-trans bias. Twenty-one percent of transgender veterans and service members have experienced homelessness compared to 18 percent of nonmilitary trans men and women. Additionally, 67 percent of trans military members were generally rejected by their families due to anti-trans bias, compared to 55 percent of their civilian counterparts.
4. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual veterans experience higher rates of unemployment than non-veterans. The majority of LGB service members are not active-duty so they must find civilian work. In 2013, LGBT veteran unemployment was at 10.1 percent while civilian unemployment was 6.8 percent.
5. Same-sex military marital benefits can no longer be denied. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which limited “marriage” and “spouse” to only include persons of the opposite sex, unconstitutional. The President directed the Executive Branch to cease enforcement of similar provisions that governed veteran’s benefits. In light of the President’s direction, the Veteran’s Affairs department is no longer denying marital benefit claims for same-sex couples.
Want to help make a difference? Consider volunteering. The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Stand Down program helps homeless veterans “combat” life on the streets. The one- to three-day events provide food, shelter, clothing and health screenings to homeless and unemployed veterans. Find a Stand Down program near you by contacting your local VA hospital in the VA Medical Center Directory.
Are you an LGBT veteran who has a story to tell? Know someone who is? The Library of Congress is collecting the tales of veterans of every war with the Veterans History Project. Help ensure the stories of our LGBT service members don’t get erased. Get get involved here: Veterans History Project.
If you’re a VA employee, veteran, dependent, or support person who has questions or concerns about LGBT issues, contact the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ LGBT workgroup at LGBTWorkgroup@va.gov. (The e-mail group is confidential; even if your email is forwarded to another office for guidance or a response, your name will be omitted to protect your privacy.)