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The military's "Don't ask, Don't tell" policy

Study by the Comprehensive Review
Working Group: 2010-JUL to OCT

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Prior activity

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Background:

President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Admiral Mike Mullen -- the top uniformed officer in the military -- and many other military leaders agreed that the Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) policy has been unfairly and needlessly discriminating against lesbians, gays, and bisexuals (LGB) since it was implemented under President Clinton in 1993. However, many of those promoting an end to DADT are conflicted between the desire to end discrimination against sexual minorities quickly, and the need to implement a change without adversely affecting unit cohesion or military readiness.

Meanwhile, some retired military officers and many retired chaplains expressed opposition to the repeal of DADT.

The administration set up a Comprehensive Review Working Group (CRWG) within the military to predict the reactions of servicemembers and their families to allowing lesbians, gays and bisexuals to serve openly. The Group is co-chaired by the Pentagon's general counsel, Jeh Johnson, and the commander of U.S. forces in Europe, Gen. Carter F. Ham. Their report, including a plan to phase out DADT, is scheduled to be issued on 2010-DEC-01.

Only 12% of the service members who received the poll filled it in and returned it. This is somewhat lower than for most such polls. One might speculate that the 88% who did not respond don't really care one way or the other. Some leaks that have ocurred before DEC-01 indicated that most of the respondents felt that an end to DADT would have little negative effect on the military.

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2010-JUL-07: Distribution and design of the survey:

Westat, a contract research organization centered in Maryland, designed the opinion survey of a statistically valid sample of servicemembers and families. 1 The 91 question survey was sent to a random sample of 400,000 active duty and activated reserve service members on 2010-JUL-07. Unfortunately, according to Service Members United -- a support group LGB servicemembers --

"No outside stakeholders were given an opportunity to weigh in on the survey design, including question wording, bias-inducing content, and offensive assumptions." 5,6

This is unfortunate. Pollsters who sample public opinion about human sexuality topics are quite aware that few terms related to sex are emotionally neutral. In the case of LGB topics, the term "homosexual" is a neutral term within the medical and therapeutic fields. However, it is often considered a snarl word with immense negative connotations when used by social and religious conservatives. For example, a survey on same-sex marriage that asked about "homosexual couples" would probably record significantly greater opposition to same-sex marriage than a survey that asked about "lesbian or gay couples." And the latter would probably generate more opposition thav a survey that asked about "same-sex couples."

About one quarter of the way through the survey, it stated: "Throughout this survey. "gay or lesbian" and "homosexual" are used intercangeably." That may be how the designers of the survey felt, but it is quite unlikely how the recipients felt.

Many of the questions referred to "homosexual" or to "gay or lesbian." No recognition was given to persons of a bisexual orientation who are also at risk for expulsion.

Four of the questions asked about the impact on morale due to the belief that a coworker was gay or lesbian. The questions seem to imply that the only possible effects on morale were negative or neutral. There was no provision to indicate that the effect on morale might be positive. Those questions would probably influence many persons answering the survey to adopt a negative expectation towards lesbians, gays, and bisexuals.

The DADT policy is incorrectly described as requiring the expulsion of a service member if they are "... found to have engaged in, or attempted to engage in, homosexual acts." Actually, the policy expels servicemembers form merely saying "I am gay" even though they have remained celibate.

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2010-OCT-13: Military Culture Coalition complaint:

The Military Culture Coalition is: "... a network of organizations that support retention of the current law regarding homosexuals in the military." They sent a letter to the Acting Inspector General of the Army requesting an investigation of the Army’s deputy chief of personnel, Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, who is co-leader of the Comprehensive ReviewWorking Group's policy group.

They cite eyewitness accounts, editorials, news accounts in the Washington Times relating to an informational exchange forum led by Bostick in Stuttgart, Germany.

They accuse Bostick of drawing a parallel between servicemembers who opposed racially integrating the military decades ago with servicemembers today who object to allowing lesbians, gays, and bisexuals to openly serve. The Defense Department denied that these events happened. A department review of notes taken during the session did not include any references to such comments.

The Washington Times reported that "at least three people who attended the general's talk in Europe last summer ..." say that that Lt. Gen. Bostick equated "... those who oppose open gays in the ranks with those who opposed racial integration." Unfortunately, it appears that among the 500 servicemembers who attended the informational exchange forum, nobody made a video or audio recording of the proceedings. 9,10

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2010-OCT-28: Leak from the Pentagon:

Some information about the report was leaked by certain Pentagon officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity and revealed that most servicemembers and their families have no objection to allowing lesbians, gays and bisexuals to serve openly in the military. However, they expect fierce opposition by a minority of servicemembers in some sections of the military.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council -- a fundamentalist Christian advocacy group that is strongly opposed to equal rights for sexual minorities -- issued a statement on 2010-NOV-11 concerning the leak. He is also unhappy with the questions asked by the survey. He said:

"It's laughable to argue that people who anonymously leak one-sided information to a reporter are less likely to 'mischaracterize the findings' of a ten-month study than are people who wait to read that 370-page study in full.

"We have criticized this study from the outset because the CRWG [Comprehensive Review Working Group] was forbidden to explore the central question before the country-not how to implement a repeal of the current law, but whether doing so is in the best interest of the armed forces. The surveys of servicemembers and their spouses which were conducted as part of this process shared the same flaw, since they never asked, 'Do you believe the current law should be overturned?'

"Despite this critical flaw, Secretary Gates had at least pledged that the effort would be 'carried out in a professional, thorough and dispassionate manner.' That effort is gravely undermined by leaks to the media which are unprofessional, selective and blatantly biased.

"I urge Secretary Gates to have the DOD Inspector General launch an immediate investigation into the source of these leaks, which have seriously damaged the credibility of the CRWG process.

"This is one more reason why Congress will need to have extensive hearings after the scheduled delivery of the CRWG report on December 1, to thoroughly examine both the substance of its findings and the process by which they were arrived at." 7

Holding hearings would probably delay any response by Congress to the DADT policy until 2011, when a new crop of conservative Representatives and Senators would be in place.

On the next day, the Defense Secretary, Robert M. Gates has, ordered an investigation to determined who leaked information on the DADT report. Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell released in a statement, stating that.

"The Secretary strongly condemns the unauthorized release of information related to this report. Secretary Gates is very concerned and extremely disappointed that unnamed sources within the Department of Defense have selectively revealed aspects of the draft findings...presumably to shape perceptions of the report prior to its release." 8

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "About Westat," Westat, 2010, at: http://www.westat.com
  2. "AP sources: Most US troops, families say gays OK," Associated Press, 2010-OCT-29, at: http://news.yahoo.com/
  3. Tom Breen, "Retired chaplains warn against military's 'don't ask' repeal," Associated Press, 2010-OCT-30, at: http://www.texarkanagazette.com/
  4. "On homosexuality and the United State Military," Southern Baptist Convention, 2010-JUN, at: http://www.sbc.net/
  5. "Bias in the 2010 DoD Comprehensive Review Survey of Uniformed Active Duty and Reserve Service Members," Servicemembers United, 2010-JUL-09, at: http://servicemembersunited.org/
  6. Text of: "2010 DoD Comprehensive Review Survey of Uniformed Active Duty and Reserve Service Members," Department of Defense, at: http://servicemembersunited.org/
  7. Chris Good, "Family Research Council: Investigate Don't Ask, Don't Tell Leak," The Atlantic, 20100-NOV-11, at: http://www.theatlantic.com/
  8. "Pentegon investigates leak on gays in military," Washington Post, 2010-NOV-12, at: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/
  9. Elaine Donnelly & Frank Gaffney, "Request for Army Inspector General Investigation..." Military Culture Coalition, 2010-OCT-13, at: http://cmrlink.org This is a PDF file.
  10. "Inside the Ring," Washington Times, 2010-OCT-13, at: www.washingtontimes.com/

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Copyright © 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2010-SEP-13
Latest update: 2010-NOV-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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