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Biden Pardons Thousands of LGBTQ+ Veterans Convicted Under Anti-Gay Military Law

Presidential Proclamation Aims to Rectify Decades of Injustice and Restore Benefits

President Joe Biden granted clemency to thousands of United States veterans convicted under a military law that banned gay sex, addressing what he called a “great injustice.” This move, announced during Pride Month and an election year, allows LGBTQ+ service members convicted solely on the basis of their sexual orientation to apply for a certificate of pardon, aiding them in receiving withheld benefits.

“Today, I am righting a historic wrong by using my clemency authority to pardon many former service members who were convicted simply for being themselves,” Biden said in a statement. “Despite their courage and great sacrifice, thousands of LGBTQ+ service members were forced out of the military because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Some of these patriotic Americans were subject to court-martial and have carried the burden of this great injustice for decades.”

This historic proclamation will allow those convicted under Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which criminalized sodomy, including between consenting adults, from 1951 until its repeal by Congress in 2013. The proclamation also includes federal employees who were penalized by the 1950s “lavender scare,” which prompted the government to investigate and terminate LGBTQ employees who were then suspected of disloyalty. 

A senior administration official, speaking to reporters, highlighted the historical context of the lavender scare and the parallel purges within the military. “If you think about the historical periods where LGBTQ+ individuals were purged from the federal government more generally, in the parallel military realm that was also occurring during the lavender scare, and so the convictions from those eras are indeed covered by this proclamation,” the official said.

This measure also criticizes the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy from the Bill Clinton era, which allowed LGBTQ+ individuals to serve in the military as long as they did not disclose their sexual orientation. The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law passed on February 28, 1994, and continued to be in force until September 20, 2011.

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