According to data from the American Community Survey and General Social Survey, it is estimated that 48,500 lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people are “serving on active duty or in the ready reserve, and an additional 22,000 are in the standby and retired reserve forces, accounting for approximately 2.2 percent of military personnel.” Additionally, over “one million veterans are LGB,” and Chicago is among the U.S. metropolitan areas with the highest populations of gay and lesbian veterans. Research also shows that lesbian and bisexual women are more likely than other women to serve in the military, as well as serve longer terms.
Since the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) in December of 2010, LGB individuals are no longer formally excluded from the military, but they still endure informal discrimination and harassment from fellow service members and supervisors. According to a survey from the Department of Defense (DOD), “80% of active duty service members stated that they had heard offensive speech, derogatory names, jokes or remarks about non-heterosexual service members in the last year,” and 37% stated that they had experienced or witnessed an event or behavior that appeared to be harassment based on sexual orientation. Women in the military also reported high rates of sexual violence. In many ways, DADT perpetuated the occurrence of sexual violence against women, as it was used to pressure women into having sex by threatening to “out” them, or call them “lesbians” to intimidate them. Many studies have also demonstrated that concealing one’s sexual orientation under DADT resulted in negative mental health effects.
Even though DADT has been repealed, institutionalized discrimination against LGBT service members still exists, particularly for transgender service members. For example, the “Equal Opportunity (EO) policy in the military provides no protection or redress for LGBT service members who find themselves victims of sexual harassment or discrimination based on sexual orientation.” Also, the DADT Repeal Act does not include transgender individuals, which means that these individuals still cannot serve openly in the military. Additionally, studies show that transgender veterans experience high rates of physical and sexual assault, as well as attempted suicide. They are also less likely to seek healthcare, due to discriminatory experiences in healthcare settings.
In an effort to better understand and meet the needs of LBTQ veterans and active duty in the Chicagoland area, Howard Brown Health Center (HBHC) is working in partnership with Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital to collect data on the health and wellness needs of this group. HBHC and Hines VA are collecting data through the needs assessment survey below. If you, or someone you know, is a veteran or serving on active duty, and identifies at LBTQ, please complete this survey:
Based on this data, HBHC and Hines VA hope to create a support group for LBTQ veterans and active duty, or other kinds of health and wellness programming. Your responses are very important to us, and will directly impact the direction of our services for LBTQ service members. Thank you for helping us better serve the LBTQ community!
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Betsy was born in Chicago and raised in the northern suburbs of the city. She graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with her B.A. in Philosophy, and went on to pursue her M.A. in Social Work from the University of Chicago. Over the past six years, Betsy has developed and pursued her passion for women’s health, LGBTQ issues, and social justice. In January of 2012, she became the Manager of the Lesbian Community Care Project (LCCP) at Howard Brown Health Center, the largest LGBTQ healthcare organization in the Midwest. Betsy is thrilled to join The L Stop team to write for the Queering Her Health blog. She hopes the blog will: 1) help LBTQ women get access to health information that is focused specifically on queer women’s health issues, 2) provide resources for LBTQ women to get connected to healthcare that is safe and affirming, and 3) encourage queer women to take care of themselves and their health, because we’re worth it!