Black women in the military disproportionately were discriminated against as part of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy. The study from the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) found that the number of military personnel discharged as a result of DADT were disproportionately women, Blacks, Latinos and Asians. In 2008, Black women totaled less than 1 percent of service members but represented 3.3 percent of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell discharges; women totaled only 15 percent of service members but 34 percent of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell discharges.
The findings resonate with recent news of a class-action lawsuit ruling, in Collins v. United States, that requires the Pentagon to reimburse $2.5 million in severance pay to the 181 gay and lesbian service members who had been targeted and discharged under the policy. The regulation dictated that all service members who were forced to leave military service because of their orientation were penalized half of their allotted severance pay—leaving them just $14,000 each. Normally, discharged military members would receive $28,000 in compensation.
Under terms of the settlement of the lawsuit, which was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Service Members Legal Defense Network (SLDN), the government will award $14,000 to each plaintiff who was involuntarily dismissed, both honorably and dishonorably, because of DADT.
“This means so much to those of us who dedicated ourselves to the military, only to be forced out against our will for being who we are,” said Richard Collins, a former Air Force staff sergeant and lead plaintiff. “We gave all we had to our country, and just wanted the same dignity and respect for our service as any other veterans.” Collins served his country for nine years prior to being discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Collins had been seen kissing his boyfriend off-base.
“There was absolutely no need to subject these service members to a double dose of discrimination by removing them from the armed forces in the first place, and then denying them this small benefit to ease the transition to civilian life,” said Laura Schauer Ives, an ACLU lawyer.
History of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy went into effect in December 1993 under the Clinton Administration. It stated that military applicants could not be asked about their sexual orientation. DADT was introduced in Congress as a compromise to the regulations from Ronald Reagan’s 1982 defense directive that stated that all military personnel who engaged in sexual acts with people of the same gender or who said that they were gay or lesbian would be discharged.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed in May 2012 under the Obama Administration.