Speaking at the annual gala of the Human Rights Campaign, America’s largest gay rights protection group, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton offered the community what some are calling her strongest show of support yet.
Among other added protections, Mrs. Clinton on Saturday said she would amend military records for lesbian, gay, and transgender veterans who have been discriminated against and dishonorably discharged.
The upgraded records belong to as many as 14,000 men and women, she said, people “who were forced out of the military for being gay.”
“They were given less than honorable discharges,” said Clinton, according to The Washington Post. “I can't think of a better way to thank those men and women for their service than by upgrading their service records.”
Clinton also used the platform to warn that if a Republican president is elected next year, many newer protections “can be undone,” according to USA Today.
"We’re going to face some ridiculousness, especially from our friends in the GOP,” she said. “I’ve been fighting alongside you and others for equal rights and I’m just getting warmed up. That’s a promise, from one HRC to another.”
For some veterans, the upgrade of service records has been a battle stemming as far back as 60 years. Last month, The New York Times reported the story of Donald Hallman, a private in the army who was discharged in 1955 for “being what it called a ‘Class II homosexual.’” He is now 82 years old.
Mr. Hallman, who was “so scared of being an outcast” that he burned almost all his military records, applied this summer for the “undesirable” discharge to be changed to “honorable,” according to the Times.
“I’ve gotten to a point in my life where no one can hurt me now,” he told the newspaper. “I want to show I was an honorable person."
If someone is dishonorably discharged from the military, it can stay with them long after military service. NPR’s Quil Lawrence describes any record other than “honorable” as “kind of a scarlet letter,” one that can cost vets “all sorts of benefits” and make it difficult to find work.
“You might as well have never even enlisted,” Michael Hartnett, a former Marine, told NPR. "[It's] worse than being a convicted felon."
Clinton’s latest extension to LGBT veterans comes only weeks after the Army marked another watershed moment: the appointment of Eric Fanning, its first openly gay secretary, The Christian Science Monitor reported.
Mr. Fanning "has the power to influence policy and promotion and, thus, set a tone for Army culture," writes the Monitor's Patrik Jonsson. "That culture remains resistant, to an extent, to open integration of gay soldiers into the ranks and the promotion of women into combat roles."
Gays and lesbians were barred from serving in America's military until 1993, when the controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law was instituted by President Bill Clinton’s administration, allowing homosexuals to serve without harassment if they did not reveal their sexual orientation.
It was repealed in 2011.
Clinton on Saturday thanked the crowd of hundreds of gay rights activists for their persistence, saying frankly: “You helped change a lot of minds, including mine.”