Panelists discussed the remaining steps that must be taken to end discrimination against LGBT servicemembers at a lunchtime discussion on Wednesday, hosted by Harvard Law School Lambda, the school’s LGBT student organization.
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the policy that banned gays, lesbians, and bisexuals from openly serving in the military, was repealed by Congress in December 2010.
Wednesday’s panelists included Margot R. Thistle, a volunteer for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, and military veterans Travis Hengen and John N. Affuso, who are both openly gay.
At the event, Hengen and Affuso shared their personal experiences with the policy and discussed the lingering effects of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on soldiers.
According to Affuso, over 14,000 servicemembers were dismissed under the policy.
One continued problem has been that potential employers often ask dismissed veterans for their discharge papers, which reflect the servicemembers’ sexual orientation.
Additionally, the panelists said that many servicemembers who were dismissed for their sexual orientation do not receive full severance pay and veteran benefits, including medical care.
The treatment of partners of gay soldiers is also a continuing problem, according to the panelists. Hengen said he has decided not to go back into the military because his partner would not receive the same benefits as a heterosexual spouse, including access to military bases.
“They’re saying congratulations on your marriage, but pretty much that’s it,” said Affuso.
The panelists also focused on the continued exclusion of transgender individuals from the military, an issue that has been one of the most contested policies in the months since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“There’s a binary view of gender in the military,” Thistle said. “You are either male or female.”
In an interview following the event, the panelists expressed their approval of the return of ROTC to Harvard, which was announced shortly after the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Hengen said that ROTC allows the military to tap into a much-needed pool of highly skilled individuals.
“Many people who wouldn’t necessarily think about joining the military did because of ROTC,” said Thistle.
Yannick A. Grant, co-political chair of Lambda, said the group hosted the event to draw students’ attentions to the limitations of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“The repeal, though still great, is limited,” said Grant.