Editor’s Note: This post is authored by Meghan Kirwan ’20, Ben Knoll ’19, and Jake Miller ’19
Did you know that some New York State veterans who have served their country do not receive the veterans’ benefits that other combat and non-combat veterans currently receive because of their sexual orientation? This discrimination is shocking for a state that passed one of the first nondiscrimination policies in the country. If you believe in equality you should be shocked too.
Depending on when they served their country, New York’s veterans may not have to pay some or all of their tuition at New York State colleges. Depending on the circumstances, some veterans are exempt from local property taxes on their homes and receive additional retirement benefits if they are employed by the state government. New York veterans can even hunt and fish with discounted licenses. Despite all of these great benefits that New York provides most veterans, some New York veterans regardless of wartime or peacetime military service to the United States do not receive any of these benefits through no fault of their own. They are currently being denied these benefits because they were dishonorably discharged solely due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Over 114,000 veterans since World War II have been removed from the military with dishonorable or less than honorable discharges for these reasons. It is estimated that 4,500 of these veterans live in New York. This injustice ended with the reversal of the federal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Law (DADT), along with recent Supreme Court decisions. While current soldiers are no longer discharged for their sexual orientation and now can receive honorable discharges, former service members who were dishonorably discharged for these reasons in the past remain unfairly deprived of jobs, scholarships, and other services and benefits.
Fairness requires that the dishonorable discharge status of LGBT veterans based solely on their sexual orientation or gender identity be treated as an honorable discharge so that they can receive the benefits they deserve. While some citizens might argue that this a problem for the Federal Government and that most veterans’ benefits are derived from the Federal Government, we can act more immediately with regard to New York State benefits.
The “New York State Restoration of Honor Act” (A 01243, S00051) is a bill currently before both the New York State Senate and the Assembly which would enable LGBT veterans who were dishonorably discharged solely on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity prior to the repeal of the federal “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Law” to receive all New York State veterans’ benefits that honorably discharged veterans in the State of New York have received. The bill provides for New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs to set up a procedure so that less than honorably discharged LGBT veterans may obtain certificates of eligibility for state and local veterans’ benefits. Once LGBT veterans who have been dishonorably discharged receive these certificates, they can have access to all services, benefits and programs that require an honorable discharge.
The discriminatory policies of the past like DADT do not match our values as a state in pursuing equity and equality regardless of sexual identity and orientation. The New York State Legislature should immediately pass this bill because it most importantly reflects our State’s values. We believe that LGBT veterans who have served our country, even putting their lives at risk in combat, but who were dishonorably discharged solely on the basis of their sexual or gender orientation receive the same benefits as other veterans. Since the Federal Government has not acted to change this inequitable situation, the passage of the “New York State Restoration of Honor Act” will. As New Yorkers, let’s urge our representatives to pass this important bill.