March 9, 2021 at 1:01 am EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Bill would create commission on LGBTQ service members, veterans
Mark Takano, gay news, Washington Blade
‘LGBTQ Americans have stepped up to serve our country in uniform, even when discriminatory policies prevented them from serving openly,’ said Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Reps. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Anthony Brown (D-Md.) on March 4 introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that calls for creating a federal commission to investigate “the historic and ongoing impacts of discriminatory military policies and practices on LGBTQ servicemembers and veterans.”

The bill, H.R. 1596, the Commission to Study the Stigmatization, Criminalization, and Ongoing Exclusion and Inequity for LGBTQ Servicemembers and Veterans Act of 2021, authorizes the commission to conduct a fact-finding investigation into the past and current treatment of LGBTQ servicemembers and veterans, according to a statement released by Brown.

The investigation would include obtaining testimony from servicemembers, veterans, families, advocacy organizations, government agencies, and others, the statement says.

Takano is one of nine gay or lesbian members of the U.S. House. He currently serves as chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. Brown, a longtime LGBTQ community ally, is a member of that committee as well as the House Committee on Armed Services.

The statement released March 4 by Brown’s office says U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) will introduce a companion version of the bill in the Senate in the coming weeks.

“For many generations, LGBTQ Americans have stepped up to serve our country in uniform, even when discriminatory policies prevented them from serving openly and when facing higher rates of harassment for just being who they are,” Takano said in the statement. “Many served in our military while hiding their identity, while others were discharged simply because they were LGBTQ,” Takano said.

“Our nation must reckon with the effects of discriminatory military policies and undo the damage that has been done,” said Takano in the statement. “Establishing this commission would help Americans understand the effects of anti-LGBTQ military policies, provide a path forward to rectify the injustices, and help create a welcoming culture for LGBTQ servicemembers and veterans in the military and at VA [U.S. Veterans Affairs Department],” he said.

“For far too long, LGBTQ+ servicemembers experienced discrimination, harassment, lost opportunities, and violence because of their identity,” said Brown, a retired Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve who was deployed to Iraq in 2004 while a member of the Maryland House of Delegates.

“Military policy and practice were wrong then and contributed to this unacceptable environment, a fact that our country must acknowledge in order to move forward,” Brown said. “By acknowledging and providing redress for past discrimination, we can better foster inclusivity within the ranks, improve unit cohesion and readiness,” he said.

The statement released by Brown’s office says approximately 114,000 service members were discharged on grounds of their sexual orientation between World War II and 2011. According to the statement, an estimated 870,000 LGBTQ veterans have been impacted by “hostility, harassment, assaultive behavior, and law enforcement targeting” as a result of discriminatory military policies.

“To this day, many LGBTQ veterans who were discharged on discriminatory grounds are unable to access their VA benefits and those still serving face inconsistent protections that make them vulnerable to harassment and put their careers at risk,” the statement says.

The statement says the commission would also be authorized to make recommendations to Congress for “a path forward that various government agencies, service providers, and the military should follow to ensure equity for LGBTQ+ Americans who wish to serve.”

The Human Rights Campaign, the Minority Veterans of America, and the Modern Military Association of America announced their support for the bill.

The Modern Military Association of America was formed through the merger of the American Military Partner Association, which represented LGBTQ military families, and OutServe-Service Members Legal Defense Network, which represented LGBTQ service members since the early 1990s.

Jennifer Dane, the MMAA’s executive director, said the organization continues to receive reports from active-duty LGBTQ service members and LGBTQ veterans about instances of discrimination and harassment. She said more reports of problems in recent years have been associated with transgender service members following the Trump administration’s reinstatement of the military ban on trans service members, which President Biden overturned in January during his first week in office.

“Discrimination, harassment and violence have plagued the LGBTQ military community for decades and a formal commission to study and understand the detrimental impacts of harmful policies and behaviors is long overdue,” Dane said.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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