A U.S. magistrate judge has ruled that LGBTQ+ veterans discharged under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy can move forward with their lawsuit against the Department of Defense (DOD).

The lawsuit, initiated by five veterans, claims they faced discrimination due to receiving other-than-honorable discharges. The veterans are requesting the DOD to erase all mentions of sexual orientation from their discharge documents and to convert their discharges to honourable ones.

The plaintiffs argue that the current process to amend discharge paperwork is “burdensome, opaque, expensive, and for many veterans virtually inaccessible.” Non-honorable discharges prevent LGBTQ veterans from reenlisting, proving their military service, and accessing services from the Department of Veterans Affairs.


Steven Egland, a U.S. Army veteran and one of the plaintiffs, stated, “Because of the circumstances and language of my discharge, which served as a painful reminder of the trauma I experienced, I was never able to proudly say that I served my country.”

Another plaintiff, U.S. Navy veteran Lilly Steffanides, shared, “Following my Other Than Honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy, which was accompanied by terrible harassment on my ship, I experienced homelessness and shame. After many years, I reconnected with the veteran community and do my best to act as a leader and supporter for other LGBTQ+ veterans like me. I am joining this lawsuit because I want justice for my LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters, and I want my service to my country to be recognised as honourable.”

The DOD contended that the lawsuit should be dismissed on the grounds that the records correction process is neutral. However, Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero countered this, stating that failing to rectify such discharges suggests “a plausible inference of discriminatory intent,” according to Bloomberg Law.

Additionally, the DOD claimed the plaintiffs’ allegations were untimely. Judge Spero disagreed, noting that the application process for correcting records itself causes trauma, Bloomberg Law reported.

The lawsuit highlights that over 35,000 U.S. military members were discharged for actual or perceived homosexual behaviour between 1980 and 2011 when the restriction on homosexuality was lifted. The original memorandum repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” deemed updating the discharge paperwork for those affected by the policy unnecessary, Bloomberg Law noted.

In February 2024, the DOD announced efforts to upgrade LGBTQ+ veterans’ discharges to honourable, according to