Gay Troops to be Surveyed About Their Own Inclusion in the Military
As part of a yearlong review process to determine how best to repeal the law that bans openly gay Americans from serving in uniform, U.S. troops will have a chance to make their opinions known through a survey on the issue and related matters. But there’s controversy present in the survey itself, as advocates for GLBT troops warn that there are inadequate protections in place to protect the confidentiality of gay troops whose participation in the survey could violate the terms of the law by outing them.
The stories of GLTB troops who serve under the terms of the ban are indispensable for gaining a comprehensive picture of how to set aside the 17-year-old ban. But under the law’s provisions, it’s possible that anyone who self-identifies as gay or lesbian in the course of answering the survey could face disciplinary action and separation from the service.
The law, known as "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" (DADT) was implemented in 1993, after then-president Clinton failed to integrate America’s fighting forces. In the 17 years since then, an estimated 13,000 servicemembers have been discharged for being gay or lesbian--including a number of specialists with "mission-critical" skills such as linguistics abilities that are key to tracking the movements of factions that might pose a risk to Americans at home and abroad, such as terrorists.
In a May 20 article, the Boston Globe reported that the Department of Defense had subcontracted the survey to Westat, an outside research firm, in order to ensure that the surveys would be conducted in confidentiality and spare the military from the dilemma of having to decide how to handle cases in which gay troops seeking to cooperate with the survey identify themselves as gay, making themselves liable to discharge as a result. The survey is supposed to include the views of about 350,000 servicemembers, and GLBTs are intended to be part of the mix.
The Marine Times reported in a July 8 article that the surveys were sent out the previous day, and said that based on a draft version of the survey, there was an emphasis on how--or whether--allowing gays to serve openly would affect unit cohesion and military readiness.
Critics of allowing gays to serve openly have long claimed that the presence of openly GLTB troops would have a catastrophic effect on order, morale, and effectiveness. Some have envisioned scenarios drawn from military-themed pornography; others have declared that straight servicemembers would flee the military in droves if gays were allowed to be forthright about their sexual identities. Considerable focus has been placed on questions of how to house gay troops.
But others criticize those warnings as an attack on the integrity and professionalism of the United States military’s members. Proponents of ending the ban say that leadership in the military comes from the top, and the troops will follow the orders they are given with respect to integrating straight and openly gay troops. As proof that gays serving openly will not lead to a crisis in morale, good order, recruiting, or retention, proponents of ending the ban not that the United States’ Western allies have all dropped bans on gays serving openly, and have not experienced any such dire problems.
The Marine Times reported that the surveys take 20-30 minutes to complete. The completed surveys are due by Aug. 15.
"In the draft version of the survey, nearly all of the questions were multiple choice, with 23 of 73 questions concerning teamwork, performance and completing the mission, and seven asking about morale," reported the Marine Times article. "The draft survey also asked how a repeal will affect the respondent’s likelihood of recommending military service to family members or close friends and their own continued service; and whether they personally know any gays, served with any gays and whether they were a leader or co-worker, and how well the unit performed."
A similar study was carried out in 1993 by the Rand Corporation, noted the article. That study found that there was no reason to think that morale, good order, or military effectiveness would be compromised if gays were allowed to serve openly; nonetheless, the anti-gay ban was imposed on those grounds, with a separate report prepared by the Pentagon claiming that, "All homosexuality is incompatible with military service.... The effect on combat effectiveness is not limited to known homosexuals."
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) issued a July 8 press release stating that the group, which serves as a resource for GLBT troops, had determined that it was not able to
"recommend that lesbian, gay, or bisexual service members participate in any survey" that might put them at risk of outing themselves.
"Late last week, SLDN asked the Department of Defense and the Pentagon Working Group for the text of the surveys, more information on possible certificates of confidentiality, and whether DOD or PWG could guarantee immunity from DADT and other armed services rules and regulations for service members who are inadvertently ’outed’ by the surveys," the release said. "The Department of Defense was unable to satisfy our request."
"A number of service members have contacted SLDN to seek guidance on surveys concerning the repeal of ’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell--the discriminatory law barring gay and lesbian service members from serving with integrity," said Aubrey Sarvis, the executive director of SLDN. "At this time SLDN cannot recommend that lesbian, gay, or bisexual service members participate in any survey being administered by the Department of Defense, the Pentagon Working Group, or any third-party contractors.
"While the surveys are apparently designed to protect the individual’s privacy, there is no guarantee of privacy and DOD has not agreed to provide immunity to service members whose privacy may be inadvertently violated or who inadvertently outs himself or herself," Sarvis added. "If a service member still wishes to participate, he or she should only do so in a manner that does not reveal sexual orientation."
The statement provided a link to a June 9 Denver Post story in which a Pentagon spokesperson said, "The law is still in effect, and if someone were to out themselves, we would have to begin the discharge process."
The article reported on a letter sent in June to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who, earlier this year, announced the yearlong review together with Adm. Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The letter was sent by the group Citizens for Repeal, which consists of GLBT military personnel, but which relies on a civilian who can be publicly identified without fear of professional repercussion, to act as the group’s spokesperson. The letter to Gates noted that gay servicemembers are hobbled in their ability to speak up for themselves, even when they are subjected to the most extreme anti-gay rhetoric.
"Our heterosexual counterparts see their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters at arms being unjustifiably called ’a social experiment’ and ’potential rapists’ while no leadership defends us," the letter read. "The very groups that make these claims have direct access to the Pentagon working group, but gay and lesbian soldiers who risk their lives every day, do not."