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Biden issues blanket pardon to troops expelled from the military for their sexuality

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President Joe Biden issued a blanket pardon on Wednesday morning to LGBTQI+ service members removed from the military because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Biden said in a statement that he was “righting an historic wrong” by granting clemency to all troops expelled during the 60 years that the military explicitly banned consensual gay sex. Congress repealed that ban in 2013. White House officials say this move, announced during Pride Month, will affect about 2,000 veterans.

The exact number of U.S. troops expelled over the years for their sexuality or gender identity isn’t known, but advocates estimate that it’s over 100,000. Commanders often used other ways to push gay troops out of the military, like issuing violations or offering a less-than-honorable discharge in lieu of court martial, the formal legal proceeding of the military.

“This is about dignity, decency, and ensuring the culture of our Armed Forces reflect the values that make us an exceptional nation,” Biden said in the statement. “We have a sacred obligation to all of our service members – including our brave LGBTQI+ service members: to properly prepare and equip them when they are sent into harm’s way, and to care for them and their families when they return home. Today we are making progress in that pursuit.”

Conduct covered under the pardon includes those convicted of aggravated offenses based on consensual, private conduct with persons age 18 and older. Those charged with an aggravated factor, like sexual coercion or adultery, are not covered in the pardon.

An other-than-honorable discharge is more than a brand of shame; it strips veterans of automatic VA benefits and health care. It can be difficult to then procure a civilian job because employers often ask about military service and character of discharge when hiring.

This pardon will remove a huge obstacle for thousands of veterans to get their military discharge upgraded with the Department of Defense, but that’s still a long and difficult process. The Department of Veterans Affairs is able to grant benefits to many veterans with an other-than-honorable discharge in many cases.

On Tuesday, VA Secretary Denis McDonough addressed that question at a press conference.

“I do have a very specific message to every veteran irrespective of their other-than-honorable discharges, which is: we want to work with you. My message is please come see us,” he said.

The Biden administration will still consider pardoning offenses charged to other LGBTQI+ individuals that do not fall under these guidelines on an expedited case-by-case basis, according to the proclamation.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Clayton Kincade
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Quil Lawrence
Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.