Queering Criminology in Theory and Praxis
Reimagining Justice in the Criminal Legal System and Beyond

18: Camouflaged: Tackling the Invisibility of LGBTQ+ Veterans When Accessing Care

There is an extensive history of LGBTQ+ invisibility in the United States military. For instance, although official regulations banning the enlistment of sexual minorities such as lesbian, gay, and bisexual people can be traced back to the 1920s (Berube, 2010), the more recent (and notorious) ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ (DADT) policy was implemented in 1993 and later repealed in 2011 (Kerrigan, 2012; Proctor & Krusen, 2017). While the DADT policy prohibited the military from directly asking a service member about their sexual orientation, service personnel were still able to be discharged if their sexual orientation became known through credible information or voluntary disclosure (where credible information might include ambiguous references to sexuality on medical records; see Howe, 2018). Indeed, 1,046 service personnel were discharged in 1999 alone for ‘conduct unbecoming’ related to sexual orientation (Sobel et al., 2001), and more than 13,000 service members have been discharged as a result of the DADT policy (McDermott, 2016).

While the repeal of DADT has been heralded as a victory for LGBTQ+ rights, the policy did not apply to transgender service members (Kerrigan, 2012). Trans people were unable to enlist and serve in the armed forces until the Department of Defense lifted the ban in 2016 under the Obama administration, which would have allowed transgender military personnel not only to openly serve their country but also to receive gender-affirming surgery previously excluded by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) starting in January 2018 (Zucker, 2018, p. 329).

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