In this issue

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) military family

The examination of service members' sexuality and “don't ask, don't tell.”

By Michael D. Gatson

Before Sept. 20, 2011, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) community who were open about their sexuality and sexual preferences were forbidden from participating in the military in accordance with the “don't ask, don't tell” (DADT) policy of the United States government (Ramirez et al., 2013). According to DADT, discrimination against any closeted homosexual or bisexual service member was prohibited while LGBTQ citizens were barred from joining the military service (Belkin, 2003). Moreover, DADT also prevented any superior from probing or initiating any form of investigation regarding the sexual orientation of any service member without credible proof of disallowed behaviors, such as exhibiting homosexual acts (Belkin, 2003; Ramirez et al., 2013). However, in 2010, DADT has been repealed by Congress; thus allowing open and unguarded members of the LGBTQ community to join the military service (Ramirez et al., 2013).

With a victory in the repeal of DADT, members of the LGBTQ community belonging to the military service have turned their attention to the next battle — the fight for the rights of their families to gain access to equal benefits for those families of non-LGBTQ military members. Brocco (2010) pointed out that even though LGBTQ members can be active members of the military service, they — especially those who are married to the members of the same biological gender — cannot fully enjoy the benefits of being a part of the military in states that do not recognize same-sex marriage. Since the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2013, many states have allowed same-sex couples to marry and, more importantly for members of the armed forces, recognized benefits for same-sex couples, such as pensions, retirement and health insurance.

However, as of March 2015, 13 U.S. states still do not recognize same-sex marriage, including the majority of states in the Deep South and three of the top-10 most-populous states: Texas, Michigan and Ohio. The law in these states explicitly bars same-sex couples from receiving federal recognition and benefits; thus limiting those who can receive family benefits for married couples to those who are married to members of the opposite sex. This is why the LGBTQ community, especially in the military, is appealing for the passing of an amended version of the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act of 2009 (DPBOA) to address the limitations of same-sex couples from enjoying the benefits that are afforded to opposite-sex couples (Brocco, 2010).

According to Gates (2010), it is estimated that there are about 71,000 lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals who are active-duty military service members, reservists and retired reserve force. Furthermore, an additional 870,000 veterans are assumed to be lesbian or gay (Gates, 2004). As service members transition from active duty, same-sex couples in non-marriage equality states are denied full and equal access to many earned veterans' benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), including disability compensation based on dependents and even access to the full backing of VA home loans. Because of the repeal of the DADT, almost more than half a million veteran military members are seeking culturally sensitive services from the VA (Ramirez et al., 2013). Even after the Supreme Court's decision in the Windsor case, the VA continues to follow a discriminatory provision in the governing statute — Title 38, Section 103(c) — that requires it to look to the state of residence to determine the validity of a marriage. Ramirez et al. (2013) further mentioned that at present, federal courts are still considering the legality of differential access to family benefits based on veterans' sexual orientation.

According to Pasek (2012), the availability and the kind of dependent benefits increase the efficacy of the military as a whole. More specifically, the availability of military support for the spouse and family of service members has a direct impact on unit cohesion, military readiness, recruitment and retention (Pasek, 2012). Thus, by denying these benefits to same-sex partners of gay soldiers, the thirteen states that still do not recognize same-sex marriage could be hindering the military's efficacy. The military does not offer these benefits to same-sex partners and families of gay or lesbian service members in states that ban same-sex marriage (Brocco, 2012; Pasek, 2012).

Pasek (2012) highlighted the importance of benefits to the efficacy of the military since service members are more motivated to work hard if they see that their family is well compensated. Considering that members of the LGBTQ community are starting to gain number in the military, for both active and veterans, it is not wise to continue the unavailability of full benefits to the partners and families of the community since this could risk the efficacy of the military as a unit. The most straightforward manner to address the issue is to amend the definition of dependents to include a person legally committed to a service member through a state-recognized marriage or civil union (Pasek, 2012). Without changing this important aspect of the law, the future of the military performance may be compromised.

Universal recognition of same-sex marriage and benefits would be the most efficient method of addressing these issues. The fight for equality for the LGBTQ community, especially in the military, experienced and celebrated two huge victories in the repeal of DADT and the Supreme Court ruling that declared DOMA unconstitutional. Given these social issues of discrimination in another form, psychological health providers that have worked for equal rights of the LGBTQ community must work towards universal recognition of same-sex marriage in order for families of LGBTQ individuals serving in the military. Once every member of the military, regardless of who they love and what state they live in can have their union recognized by their state, the positive effects of the fight for equal rights available to the LGBTQ community will be felt at a more significant level.

Health care professionals who seek to understand the challenges of LGBTQ service members, veterans and their families and communities will be better prepared to engage in direct practice with this population. The issue of discrimination among LGBTQ military service members requires that clinicians improve their efforts in understanding the military culture and experiences situation in order to effectively prevent occurrences of discrimination among LGBTQ military service members. Once this is done, a positive effect is expected to occur not just in diminishing discrimination within the military, but also in the improvement of the lives of LGBTQ military active members, veterans and the people around them.


Belkin, A. (2003). Don't ask, don't tell: Is the gay ban based on military necessity? Retrieved from

Brocco, M. (201). Familiar stories: An International suggestion for LGB family military benefits after the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." Retrieved from

Gates, G. (2004). Gay men and lesbians in the US military: Estimates from Census 2000. Retrieved from

Gates, G. J. (2010). Lesbian, gay and bisexual men and women in the US military: Updated estimates. Retrieved from

Pasek, D. J. (2012). Love and War: An argument for extending dependent benefits to same-sex Partners of military service members. Harvard Law & Policy Review, 6 (2), 459-472.

Ramirez, M. H., Rogers, S. J., Johnson, H. L., Banks, J., Seay, W. P., Tinsley, B. L., & Grant, W. (2013). If we ask, what they might tell: Clinical assessment lessons from LGBT Military personnel post-DADT. Journal of Homosexuality, 60 (2-3), 401-418. doi 10.1080/00918369.2013.744931