Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Rampant for LGBT Service Members

A newly released study found that sexual harassment, assault, and stalking remain a persistent problem in the U.S. military. Service members identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) may face enhanced risk compared to heterosexual service members. According to the CUNY Grad School of Public Health & Health Policy, despite the repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, there are still concerns over the persistence of military sexual harassment and sexual orientation discrimination against LGBT service members.

The study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress by Oregon State University and the University of Southern California revealed that LGBT service members face an elevated risk of sexual harassment, assault, and stalking while in the military than their non-LGBT counterparts. It also found that although women of all sexual orientations experienced sexual harassment to some degree, queer men faced more harassment than straight men. Participants reported stalking as an issue, reporting twice as many incidents compared to straight participants. Lead author Ashley Schuyler claimed that although the study indicated that more research is needed to understand the issue of stalking in the military, being confined in close quarters with others for months could increase the risk. “We’re trying to understand where stalking fits into that spectrum of experiences, so we can intervene to help people who we know experience harassment or stalking and prevent a potential assault in the future.”

In 1993, President Bill Clinton announced that he intended to eliminate military discrimination based on sexual orientation by implementing the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy. Under its terms, military service members who identified as LGBT and wanted to join the armed forces would no longer be forced to lie about their sexual orientation. In 2010, the House and Senate voted in favor to repeal and over-turn the policy, and in 2011, the nation decided that LGBT military personnel should no longer fear discharge due to admitting to their sexual preference.

Unfortunately, three years after the Obama administration told transgender individuals they could serve openly and have access to personal medical care, the Trump administration reversed its course. According to an NBC news report, many service members say they’ve been forced to choose between continued service and their dignity and basic health care needs.

While the U.S. has made great efforts towards achieving equality in the military, there is still work to be done for the members of the LGBT community. The findings demonstrate the prevalence of sexual orientation discrimination among LGBT service members in the military and point to the need for strong accountability and oversight to protect service members while they are serving their country. A study conducted on LGBT military veterans who experienced sexual harassment or assault during military service found that they were linked with negative health outcomes such as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depressive symptoms, substance use, and suicidal behavior. It’s clear that the U.S. military still has work to do in providing effective support for openly gay service members by changing military culture and implementing prevention programs to teach against discrimination in order for LGBT service members to feel fully accepted.