Tucson Pride Veterans Project (TPVP) was established in 2020 to address difficulties faced by LGBTQ+ service members and veterans. Namely social isolation, mental illness, unemployment, chronic homelessness, and veteran suicide. These problems are amplified for LGBTQ+ veterans due to historically discriminatory policy and attitudes toward LGBTQ+ service members.
Discrimination against LGBTQ+ service members goes back as far as the Revolutionary War. Following World War I, the military made the act of sodomy a crime subject to punishment by court-martial. By World War II, psychiatrists had classified homosexuality as a mental disorder. This led to military regulations listing homosexuality as disqualifying characteristic for military service in 1942.
During the Eisenhower years, the “Lavender Scare” and “McCarthyism” labeled LGBTQ+ people as security risks resulting in the dismissal of many from civil service jobs, including those serving in the military. This policy faced numerous challenges as the gay rights movement gained momentum throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s; however, the ban was reaffirmed well into the 1980’s. Between 1980 and 1990, the military discharged close to 17,000 individuals under the “homosexual category.”
In 1992, then Presidential candidate, Bill Clinton vowed to end the ban on gay service members. The following year, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was announced. The policy became law in 1994. Essentially “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” meant that military leadership was not allowed to discriminate against closeted service members; however, LGBTQ service members were not permitted to disclose their orientation. If service members engaged in “homosexual conduct,” they would be discharged. By 2009, more than 13,000 gays, lesbians, and bisexuals were discharged under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was officially repealed in September of 2011. It is believed that this repeal created a cascade effect including having a part in lifting a ban on women serving in ground-combat units as well as a ban on Transgender service members in 2016. Unfortunately several protections for Transgender service members were rolled back by the Trump administration in 2018. This resulted in the reinstatement, in part, of the Transgender military ban.
Despite this history, LGBTQ+ people have continued to answer the call to serve in the armed forces. In 2018, A RAND Corporation survey revealed that 6.1 percent of the U.S. Military’s end strength of 1.3 million members self-identified as LGBTQ+ individuals. The Veterans Health Administration estimates that there are a million lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Veterans in the United States. The needs of these veterans cannot be understated.
Tucson Pride Veterans Project was conceived in 2019 and established in 2020 to address issues unique to LGBTQ+ veterans. The organization’s mission is “to connect, unite, empower, and promote resiliency among LGBTQ+ veterans of Southern Arizona through peer support, recreation, community service, and advocacy.”
The initial focus of the project will be on community education and enhancing the quality of life for veterans through peer connection, recreational activities, and community education. Beyond that, the emphasis will also be on assisting veterans in securing access to housing assistance, vocational rehabilitation, employment assistance, education benefits, and VA healthcare benefits.