The state of Rhode Island is gearing up to support its LGBTQ veterans.
Just before Veteran’s Day, Rhode Island Governor Gina Paimondo, a Democrat, signed into effect new legislation to give state and local benefits to LGBTQ veterans discharged because of their sexual orientation. The law does so by changing veterans’ discharge status to “honorable,” which will then give them access to receive benefits like tax exemptions and tuition assistance.
“In the state of Rhode Island, if you’re a veteran who’s served, you oughta be eligible for veterans benefits that the state provides,” Gov. Raimondo told local station WLNE-TV at Friday’s signing.
“Far too many veterans have been discharged, shamed and left without the benefits they earned because of decades of a dehumanizing policy that said they couldn’t serve,” Rhode Island Sen. Dawn Euer, one of the bill’s sponsors, said in a statement. “They deserved gratitude and honor, and we should be doing everything we can to ensure that these wrongs are righted and that they get the respect they deserve.”
LGBTQ people have had a hard time trying to serve the U.S. military for centuries. Back during the draft in the mid-1900s, gay men were kicked out of service if their sexual orientation was discovered. This eventually led to men “coming out as gay” in order to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.
Afterward, being gay and a serviceman was still hard. According to NBC News and a study from the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military, an estimated 100,000 service members were less-than-honorably discharged due to their sexual orientation. This didn’t stop until “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed during the Obama Administration.
And now in the past few years, we’ve seen the U.S. military and government turn their daggers toward transgender service people. President Donald Trump tweeted in 2017 his plan to ban newly enlisted transgender military service people. His reasoning being that paying for gender-reassignment surgery was too costly for the military (a fact that was later found to be false). Trump then claimed that the transgender ban is in place because troops aren’t allowed to take “any drugs.” The Defense Department itself contradicted Trump on that excuse by stating troops are allowed to take all prescribed medications, including hormone treatments.
After announcing the ban, some already enlisted soldiers chose to quit in solidarity and a few were forced out. That said, the majority of Trump’s directive was focused on new trans service people and not pre-existing ones.
But no matter their specific circumstances, it appears that Rhode Island is here for its LGBTQ veterans discharged because of their sexual orientation. And more states should be doing the same.