Former Army officer, who spent year in jail for being gay, receives presidential pardon

Peter Heidgerd was a captain in the Army when he was court-martialed in 1989. (Courtesy photo)

An Atlanta man was the beneficiary of President Obama’s pen Tuesday, when after more than 30 years of carrying a federal conviction on his record for being gay, he received a full pardon.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports Peter Heidgerd, who served a year in prison for his sexuality, was convicted July 17, 1989, of conduct unbecoming an officer while at Fort Gordon near Augusta. With the pardon, he no longer has a felony record.

Heidgerd, 56, is happy to receive the presidential pardon, and had an expectant reaction to the news.

He heard the news from his attorney, who called while Heidgerd was at his landscaping job.

“I have to put the phone down for one second,” Heidgerd quietly said to his lawyer Robin Clark.

“Then I heard him scream,” Clark said.

Heidgerd always kept a positive outlook on his future, even when faced with living life as a felon.

“He had a felony on his record. So when he came back to Georgia to find a job he could not get one because no one would hire him with a felony on his record and less than honorable discharge,” Clark said.

“I didn’t let this whole thing get me down,” Heidgerd said. “I didn’t need a president to pardon me, but this helps.”

He said he’s not bitter, though he recognizes the loss to his career.

His faith in Jesus Christ is strong.

“I’ve never arrived. I’ve never been allowed to arrive,” he said. “But I have been the person I wanted to be. … I knew whatever I was as a person that I needed to love me and be me.”

In 2010, Obama signed legislation repealing the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on openly gay servicemembers.

The repeal took effect in 2011.

“Recognizing that our openness to diversity is one of the things that (has) allowed us to be the best in the world, we must ensure that everyone who’s able and willing to serve has the full and equal opportunity to do so,” Defense Secretary Carter told said in 2015. “And we must start from a position of inclusivity, not exclusivity.”

In 2015, Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith, the first openly gay general in the U.S. Army joined the command staff at Fort Benning, Georgia.

It’s not clear how the pardon will affect the status of Heidgerd’s discharge from the Army or if he will be eligible for benefits, though Clark expects information will be forthcoming.

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  • Jim Verchio is a staff writer for Popular Military. As a retired Air Force Public Affairs craftsman, Jim has served at all levels. From staff writer to Editor-In-Chief, he has more than 30 years experience covering military topics in print and broadcast from the CONUS to Afghanistan. He is also a two time recipient of the DoD’s prestigious Thomas Jefferson Award for journalism excellence.

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