Oregon Creates First Liaison to Serve LGBT Vets

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Oregon Sen. Sara Gelser

An Oregon senator created a veterans liaison for the state’s LGBT veterans.

Oregon’s LGBT veterans will soon have someone looking out for their needs. Sen. Sara Gelser, a Democrat, was able to get her bill, SB 946, passed in both the state House and Senate and then signed off by Gov. Kate Brown in August. Brown is also the first openly bisexual governor of a state.

The liaison position, expected to be filled next year, would help LGBT veterans who were discharged due to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell have their statuses upgraded. According to the Human Rights Campaign, Oregon has about 15,000 LGBT veterans.

“I was motivated to introduce this legislation when I learned about all of the benefits denied to LGBTQ vets who were pushed out of the military based on their sexual orientation,” Gelser said. “It seemed a tremendous injustice, and I was particularly concerned about aging vets. I wanted them to have access to needed services, an apology for being mistreated, and a thank you for their generous service to our country.”

Gelser added that when the bill was in its infancy, the plan was to restore state-level benefits to those who were discharged because of being LGBT. However, she expanded it in order to ensure that all needs of LGBT veterans were met.

“Our new coordinator will help those who were wrongfully discharged for who they loved apply for a reinstatement of benefits. However, it will also allow for outreach and coordination for a variety of issues important to this population of veterans,” she said.

The bill was co-sponsored by Oregon Sen. Peter Courtney and Rep. Brian Boquist, a Democrat and Republican, respectively.

Getting bipartisan support was a “reflection of a commitment to equality and of respect towards those who selflessly stand up to serve.”

“I was concerned that it might get stuck, but at the end of the day most of my colleagues believed that when you put on the uniform of United States you should have the same benefits and protections as all other members of the military.”

 

Originally published in South Florida Gay News’s Mirror magazine.

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