Today, the Modern Military Association of America (MMAA) — the nation’s largest non-profit organization for the LGBTQ military and veteran community — responded to the U.S. House of Representatives’ vote of 220-197 passing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2020. The NDAA includes amendments to overturn the Trump-Pence transgender military ban and also restore honor to service members discharged due to their sexual orientation. The House version of the NDAA will now go to conference committee to be reconciled with the Senate version.
Overturning the Trump-Pence administration’s deeply harmful transgender military ban, an amendment sponsored by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) would make eligible for military service any qualified individual who can meet standards, regardless of race, color, national origin, religion or sex — including gender identity or sexual orientation. The House version also includes an amendment sponsored by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) that would grant service members discharged solely due to their sexual orientation a statutory right to request their military records be reviewed and upgraded to reflect their honorable service.
“By passing the NDAA with these incredibly important amendments, the U.S. House of Representatives just sent a powerful message of support to all of the brave patriots who serve our nation in uniform — including LGBTQ service members and veterans,” said MMAA Executive Director and Navy veteran Andy Blevins. “Rep. Speier’s non-discrimination amendment would stregthen military readiness and rightfully restore the ability of qualified transgender patriots to serve our country openly and authentically. Rep. Pocan’s amendment would help to restore honor to the tens of thousands of gay, lesbian and bisexual service members who were discharged from the military under former discriminatory policies. As the legislation now goes to conference committee, we urge Members of Congress to ensure both of these amendments are in the final reconciled version of the NDAA.”
On Tuesday of this week, MMAA released a letter signed by prominent military, veteran and national security leaders and organizations urging Congress to pass Rep. Speier’s non-discrimination amendment. Signed by major national organizations such as the National Military Family Association, Blue Star Families, and others, along with numerous military and national security experts, such as the Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb, 75th U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, 22nd U.S. Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning and many more, the letter made clear that the amendment would strengthen military readiness. The letter states, “Many of us have served in the military or in national security roles despite historical barriers for people who share our background, appearance, convictions and stories. Many of us also work for organizations that advocate for members of underrepresented groups who have made sacrifices for our nation. These experiences inform our belief that a military open to all who meet standards, without prejudicial barriers, makes our nation stronger and safer. We also know firsthand the power of Congress’ voice in signalling acceptance and support for those who serve despite facing discrimination.”
Rep. Speier’s amendment would simply put into statute the Department of Defense’s own inclusive language used in its military equal opportunity program. The 2016 DoD Directive 1020.02E, Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity in the DoD, states equal opportunity is “critical to mission accomplishment, unit cohesiveness, and military readiness.” The directive states that all service members should be “afforded equal opportunity in an environment free from harassment, including sexual harassment, and unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including gender identity), or sexual orientation.”
Rep. Pocan’s amendment seeks to help the many veterans who were affected by discriminatory policies or laws such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by codifying the process for these veterans to upgrade their discharge characterization or request derogatory remarks be removed from their records. MMAA assists many of these veterans through the legal process of upgrading their military records. More information on MMAA’s legal services is available at www.ModernMilitary.org/Legal
Since World War II, more than 100,000 Americans are estimated to have been discharged from the military because of their sexual orientation. Those forced out of the military may have left with discharge statuses of “other than honorable,” “general discharge” or “dishonorable,” depending on the circumstances. As a consequence, many of these service members may be disqualified from accessing certain benefits that they earned and are entitled to, and may not be able to claim veteran status. The consequences of a negative discharge also include preventing some veterans from voting or making it more difficult for them to acquire civilian employment.