Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Headed For Extinction?

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Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Headed For Extinction?

Amie Newman

The Pentagon released the results of a review of the military if Don't Ask, Don't Tell were to be repealed. The conclusion? It's time to say good-bye to discrimination based on sexual orientation in the military. Our soldiers can handle it - and so can military leadership.

It seems that opponents of a repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy keeping gay and lesbian military members in the closet while serving, won’t have much ammunition for their argument any longer.

The Pentagon released the results of its survey, and its full report (PDF), of military members and their families today and the troops (and spouses) seem firmly in the “it’s all good” camp.

The report concludes that while repealing the policy may cause some disruption initially there would be no long-lasting damage to the military. Sixty-two percent of service members said repeal of the policy would not change their career plans in the least; they would remain in the military serving side by side with their gay and lesbian counterparts. Just like most Americans, likely, those surveyed said that job satisfaction, retirement benefits, pay and bonuses were more important than whether or not they are working with openly gay and lesbian people. 

From the report:

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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Overall, 70–76% of Service members said repeal would have a positive, a mixed, or no effect on aspects of task cohesion. Similarly, 67–78% of Service members said repeal would have a positive, mixed, or no effect on aspects of social cohesion.

When asked about how openly gay or lesbian service members in ones’ immediate unit might affect trust within the unit, care and concern for each other, performance, and ability to work together, the majority of service members answered that there would be no effect, a mixed effect or a positive effect on cohesion.

The Marines were consistenly the most negative in their responses about the effect of the repeal. Within the Marines, the combat arms units held even more pessimistic perspectives about the potential negative effects of the repeal. Nearly 67 percent said that there would be a negative effect on unit cohesion if gay and lesbian service members were allowed to serve openly.

In what should no longer be shocking to me, but somehow still is, the working group/panel that implemented the survey and produced the report, noted particularly homophobic responses from some military chaplains, to a possible repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Some chaplains told the working group members that they would “condemn in the strongest possible terms homosexuality as a sin and an abomination, and…that they would refuse to in any way support, comfort, or assist someone they knew to be homosexual” should DADT no longer be the law of the land. That said, other chaplains noted that though believed homosexuality to be a sin they also admitted it was their duty to care for all servicemembers regardless. It’s hard to imagine how supportive a chaplain who is strongly anti-gay may be given these responses, though.

Still, the report found that there would be little impact on recruitment and retention from repeal of DADT; as well as a low risk of losing enlisted soldiers, with a low-moderate risk of losing officers from repeal of the policy.

The panel recommended that with repeal of DADT, there must be strong leadership, proactive education and a clear message in order to successfully address the change in policy. A support plan for implementation was released in order to guide the military leadership through a new environment. A policy ensuring equal opportunity for all, prohibiting unlawful discrimination, must be followed said the panel. However, the report recommends not placing sexual orientation alongside race, color, religion, sex and other factors as part of the Military Equal Opportunity Policy or for special diversity programs. The group, instead, says that the DoD,

“…should make clear that sexual orientation may not, in and of itself, be a factor in accession, promotion, or other personnel decision-making. Gay and lesbian Service members, like all Service members, would be evaluated only on individual merit, fitness, and capability.  Likewise, the Department of Defense should make clear that harassment or abuse based on sexual orientation is unacceptable and that all Service members are to treat one another with dignity and respect regardless of sexual orientation. Complaints regarding discrimination, harassment, or abuse based on sexual orientation would be dealt with through existing mechanisms available for complaints not involving race, color, sex, religion, or national origin—namely, the chain of command, the Inspector General, and other means as may be determined by the Services.”

It’s unclear whether this is something gay and lesbian advocacy groups would support. The report also addresses panel recommendations for health and other benefits extended to military members’ same-sex partners.

What the panel ultimately found? That military members, like any others facing progression and change, need guidance and support for a policy change as immense as this one:

“If the law changes, we can do this; just give us the tools to communicate a clear message.”

The working group conclusively offered its assessment of a DADT repeal:

We conclude that, while a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will likely, in the short term, bring about some limited and isolated disruption to unit cohesion and retention, we do not believe this disruption will be widespread or long-lasting, and can be adequately addressed by the recommendations we offer below. Longer term, with a continued and sustained commitment to our core values of leadership, professionalism, and respect for all, we are convinced that the U.S. military can adjust and accommodate this change, just as it has others in history.