There are both practical and symbolic aspects to today’s end of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy requiring lesbian, gay, and bisexual people to not come out in the military, or face discharge.
From an aging standpoint, the most important reason to applaud the policy change is that LGBT people are far more likely to be veterans than are heterosexual, non-transgender people. Although about 13% of adult Americans served in the military, unpublished data from the Caring and Aging with Pride national LGBT aging survey indicate that more than one-quarter of LGBT older adults are veterans. Although LGBT veterans are not denied Veterans Administration (VA) benefits, the existence of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell surely made it more difficult for them to push for benefits, services, or respect. The change should make their lives easier.
It is absolutely critical to note, however, that transgender service members are still not protected. Transgender people in the military who disclose their gender identity can still be discharged. Lest you think this can’t affect very many people, surveys are showing that high numbers of transgender people are military veterans. For instance, the Caring and Aging with Pride survey mentioned above found that 41% of transgender respondents were veterans, a rate 61% higher than the LGB respondents. The National Center on Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Injustice as Every Turn survey found that 54% of transgender respondents age 65 and up were veterans. Luckily, transgender veterans recently received a major assist from the Obama Administration, which issued new guidance requiring the VA to treat such veterans with respect. (To learn more, see the GrayPrideParade post of June 14, “New Transgender Veterans’ Health Care Guidelines.”)