It’s only been seven years since gay, lesbian and bisexual military personnel had to hide their sexual orientation under the Clinton administration’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) policy which forbade soldiers from being out or risk being discharged. But according to Navy veteran Lindsay Church, the policy can still affect a vet’s life after service—and she’s doing something about it.
"Many veterans have asked me what to do, now that they’ve transitioned back into civilian lives. For me, I’ll never have to ask that question again. My answer is empower veterans to have the lives that they deserve." #MVAProud #PhoenixDayMVA #BrickByBrick https://t.co/DG23oDJQvT pic.twitter.com/iTBS41sfjo
— Minority Veterans of America (@MinorityVets) September 20, 2018
“I remember being told by my head officer to grow my hair out and marry a gay guy,” Church says recalling her time serving in the Navy under DADT. “That way, if I ever got into any trouble, I’d have a story to fall back on.”
Under DADT, service members who disclosed that they were homosexual or engaged in homosexual conduct were to be separated, or discharged. Service members who were discharged because of DADT are now eligible for a “discharge upgrade” to receive the veteran benefits earned during their time of service, but Church says due to lack of awareness and fear of discrimination, many minority vets do not apply. That’s one of the reasons why she co-founded the Minority Veterans of America (MVA).
Studies have shown that living at the intersections of LGBTQ and minority identities compounds rates of mental health issues due to racism and heterosexism. #VetsLikeUs #MyStoryMyWay #HRC #MinortyVets #CureStigma #OneFight https://t.co/BkVFJBZ3ec pic.twitter.com/Fmerdm9Ysn
— Minority Veterans of America (@MinorityVets) July 31, 2018
“Minority veterans—people of color, women, LGBTQ, and religious and non-religious minorities—are often left out of the narrative around supporting vets and there are major consequences,” says Church. “For example, while homelessness among white vets is improving, minority vets are accessing VA care benefits at a lower rate because of fear of discrimination. We don’t have programs in place to support women or gender non conforming people and we’re seeing more of them homeless. And in some states, a dishonorable discharge can be deemed the equivalent of a felony conviction. So we’re trying to connect people to resources and each other to improve their lives and overall well being.”
To help MVA grow and reach more minority vets, the organization is partnering with WeWork’s Veterans in Residence program.
“WeWork helps grow our mission and put a professional face on what we’re doing,” says Church. “Veteran small business owners and entrepreneurs come together in a cohort through their program and WeWork helps us run the business side, get exposure, and build out our programs so we can reach as many vets as possible.”
And though Church says it’s important to celebrate the anniversary of the end of DADT. She says the fight is far from over.
“It was amazing to see DADT repealed, but that policy was about orientation, not identity,” Church says. “We cannot forget about trans people. The fight isn’t over for everyone. Additionally, policy doesn’t change culture. Yes, we won’t get kicked out, but we are still treated differently and that’s why it’s important to connect minority vets to services out there to support them so they can be lead successful, happy, and full lives.”