Since the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” gay, lesbian, and bisexual soldiers are allowed to openly serve in the military. However, for many who were dishonorably discharged due to their sexuality under the old rules, a stain remains on their record.
For Hal Faulkner, who served in the early 1950s, the mere hint of his homosexuality was enough to get him discharged from the marines.
“It wrecked me,” Faulkner told The New York Times, in an article published in the Sunday Review.
At age 22, Faulkner had only served three years in the marines, but had already risen from private first class to sergeant, and looked forward to a promising career in the armed forces.
“I would have ascended to the top,” he said, “and yet I couldn’t be what I wanted to be.”
A man whom Hal spent some of his off-duty time with informed Hal’s commanding officer that he was gay. In the military in the 1950s, that was enough.
His discharge was classified as “other than honorable,” which can have lifelong consequences, like limited access to Veterans Administration healthcare and the GI Bill. For Hal, the emotional trauma of being ousted from a position that he loved was much more prominent, and the pain never went away.
“They gave up on me,” he said. “I never forget it.”
Thankfully, the military now offers discharge updates for former service members who were kicked out of the armed forces due to their sexual orientation, in order to redress the mistakes of the past. For Hal, who is terminally ill, it’s an opportunity of a lifetime.
Thanks to a lawyer who took up his case, Hal received a letter in mid-December letting him know that his record would be corrected, stating that he now had an “honorable discharge” from the marines.
The new policy reflects a changing cultural attitude in the United States, towards acceptance for the gay community, and with it, compassion for those who suffered in the past.
“He lived his entire adult life with this shame and this stain on his honor,” said the co-chair of OutServe-SLDN, John Gillespie, who was present when the letter was read. “The world has changed so much that with the stroke of a pen, that stain and that shame are gone.”
For Faulkner, who is suffering from debilitating cancer, it was a life-changing moment, one in which his struggle for acceptance was finally being recognized.
“I don’t have much longer to live,” he said after the letter was read, “but I shall always remember it.”