(Some) Justice for NJ Vets Discharged for being LGBT

Gopal

Democrats are pro-LGBT and Republicans support the troops. So this Venn diagram lines up perfectly.

(Cherry Hill, NJ)  – I’ll never forget the precise moment in 2007 when my late father, a retired Marine, finally embraced the idea of gays in the military. I’m the activist in the family but my partner Greg did all the heavy lifting this time around.

All I did was watch….and listen as Greg shared a story about the best employee he ever had.

“I’m so lucky to have a Marine on my team,” Greg told Dad. “Sargeant Blankenship is peerless. And surely the most disciplined and resourceful person who’s ever worked for me in the past 30 years.”

Greg rattled off a series of virtues a Marine might bring to the table in the corporate world.

It almost sounded like a recruitment pitch!

“Pride, loyalty, work ethic, dependability, toughness” Greg said. “I could go on but you get the point.”

My father, who spent 7 years as a Marine recruiter, was understandably rapt as Greg described the post-service outcome Dad wanted for all the Marines he recruited.

And Dad surely envisioned a ramrod-straight jarhead like himself up to this point in Greg’s story.

“Maybe next time you’re in town we’ll invite her and her wife over for dinner and you can swap Marine stories,” Greg added.

Greg’s long, protracted drag from a Marlboro Red gave Dad’s ol’ boomer brain a second to connect the dots that Sergeant Blankenship was in fact a lesbian.

The story put a huge smile on Dad’s face. The revelation that Sargeant Blankenship was a gay woman did not dim that smile. And what followed was a conversation between my partner and my father about LGBT rights and equality.

They talked about justice and military cohesion. Depriving LGBTs the opportunity to serve isn’t fair they concluded.

And discrimination against LGBTs certainly doesn’t keep America safer.

“Less-than-honorable”

NJ Senator Vin Gopal chairs the Senate Military & Veteran’s Affairs Committee in Trenton. He estimates that roughly 100,000 LGBTQ Vets were booted from service with a less than honorable discharge between WWII and 2011, when Congress repealed the so-called ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ (DADT) policy.

DADT was a 199os-era compromise on President Bill Clinton’s campaign promise to allow gays in the military. Congress balked and DADT was the result.

So from 1994 until 2011 when President Barack Obama signed the repeal, LGBTQs could serve but only if they remained closeted. That’s a pretty big secret to hide. Not to mention the policy left LGBTQ service-members vulnerable to being “outed” and losing their job, their healthcare, and their domicile.

“These veterans lost their right to both state and federal benefits because they were discharged under less than honorable conditions due to their sexual identity or expression,” Gopal explained.

So last week, Senator Gopal with running mates Joann Downey and Eric Houghtaling dropped a bill to restore state benefits to LGBT Veterans discharged during the DADT era.

“This is about fairness, and this is about justice,” Assemblywoman Downey said in a statement. “It’s time for us to put this era of discrimination behind us and stand up for LGBTQ veterans who were intimidated, harassed, or forcibly outed as they worked hard to defend our country.”

Christian Fuscarino leads Garden State Equality. His husband Aaron, an active duty US Marine, is among the first generation of LGBT service members to enlist after DADT’s repeal.

“Those who answer the call to serve should be fully honored and recognized,” Mr Fuscarino told InsiderNJ.  “To tell our LGBTQ Veterans that their service means less than their peers simply because of who they are or whom they love defies our values as a nation.”

Dare to Dream

As the long-ago kitchen-table DADT chat wound down, Dad turned to me with a very serious look on his face.

“I’m sorry son,” he said.

“For what? I never wanted that military life for myself, Dad,” I assured him and I meant it.

Growing up on base was more than enough for one lifetime and besides I don’t like guns which feels like a prerequisite for the job.

“Yeah but still…” he replied before losing himself in thought.

Dad struggled to articulate exactly what he was sorry for, but over the years I kinda figured it out.

No parent likes to contemplate the barriers to success and to happiness their children will surely face in life. DADT stopped being an abstract concept about unit cohesion when Dad finally saw the policy for what it was: a law which undermined his own child’s ability to dream huge.

Whip Count

I got the urge to call my dad several dozen times so far while writing this. Once to pick his brain about Senator Gopal’s bill. Then again to ask about the first woman he recruited into the USMC because I’m sure that would have been an interesting discussion after a glass of wine or three.

Notably, I longed for Dad’s advice how to sell a bill like this to fellow republicans. He’d probably tell me to avoid terms like “reparations.” And to find some GOP vets and invite them to co-sponsor this legislation.

Despite the GOP’s dodgy track record on LGBT issues, this bill should be the easiest thing Trenton lawmakers do all year. Bi-partisan is nice but that’s unambitious. This needs to be unanimous.

Let’s get it done

Someone should start a Google.doc with the whip count.

Maybe that someone is me?

 

Jay Lassiter is an award-winning writer, podcaster, and videographer who’s obsessed with getting the government out of your womb and your bong. 

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