Thirty-five years after being kicked out of the U.S. Army for being gay, an Oklahoma City woman has won her fight to have her discharge upgraded from “other than honorable” to “honorable.”
“It’s crazy,” said Lisa Weiszmiller, 53, proudly displaying an honorable discharge certificate backdated to June 22, 1979.
On paper, it’s just like the other than honorable discharge 35 years ago never happened.
Weiszmiller said her next step is to try to get the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department to pay for a post-traumatic stress disorder service disability.
The U.S. Army administratively discharged 8,446 service members for being gay from 1983 through 2010, said Army Pentagon spokesman Wayne Hall, citing a 27-year period for which statistics are readily available.
An estimated 100,000 service members across all the U.S. Armed Forces were discharged based on their sexual orientation between World War II and September 2011, according to figures cited in the Restore Honor to Service Members Act introduced in the U.S. Senate this year.
Policies toward gay military service have changed dramatically in recent decades. In 1993, a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy replaced a ban on gay military service. That policy later was repealed, and restrictions on gay military service were lifted in 2011.
Weiszmiller was able to get her discharge upgraded to honorable through an appeal to the Army Boards of Correction for Military Records. Data was not readily available concerning how many former service members discharged for being gay successfully have appealed and had their discharges upgraded.
‘Treatment was barbaric’
Weiszmiller believes she suffers from PTSD not as the result of combat, but because of the intentional humiliating treatment Army officials inflicted on her because she was gay.
“Back then, the treatment was barbaric,” Weiszmiller said.
She and another female soldier were accused of being gay, interrogated for hours and assigned extra duties as punishment — including mowing fields of grass with a hand sickle.
Drill sergeants would march their troops around the post, “and if they came upon us, they would stop their troops, and we would have to come to parade rest, and they would berate us.”
“These are queers! These are lesbians! Stay away from these homosexual women,” she painfully recalled the taunts. “They tried everything they could to try to break us down to what they thought we were.”
Weiszmiller said she grew up in New Jersey and that her military police training at Fort McClellan, Ala., during 1978 and 1979 was a culture shock — not just in the treatment of gays but blacks, as well.
“I learned what racism was down there,” she said, recalling a visit to a bar where the waiters refused to serve black friends.
“I got a hell of an education down there in Alabama,” she said.
The whole experience was overwhelming to a 19-year-old woman, who joined the Army with the hopes of turning it into a military career.
“I joined the Army in 1978 to be a military policeman,” she said, adding that she did everything in her power during training to become the best military policeman possible.
Weiszmiller said she had completed training and was ready to be processed out to Germany when military police showed up at the barracks and told her and another female soldier they weren’t going anywhere.