December 20, 2006
In an interview with the Washington Post yesterday, President Bush disclosed his plans to increase the US military’s troop strength “to meet the challenges of a long-term global struggle against terrorists.”
In light of this proposal, it’s appropriate to ask (yet again) whether excluding sexual minorities from the US armed forces makes any sense.
The Pentagon has repeatedly predicted that the presence of openly gay and lesbian personnel would reduce the military’s morale and effectiveness and would deter heterosexuals from enlisting. As I’ve detailed in previous postings, empirical support for those claims has always been lacking. Now data from a new survey cast fresh doubts on their validity.
The survey was conducted by Zogby International for the Michael D. Palm Center (formerly the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military), located at the University of California, Santa Barbara. It measured the opinions of 545 current and former military personnel, all of whom served in Iraq or Afghanistan or in combat support roles directly related to those operations.
A detailed report of the survey results can be downloaded from the Michael D. Palm Center. Here are four key findings.
1. The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is not strongly supported by combat personnel and veterans.
Only a minority (37%) supported DADT, saying they disagree “with allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.” The remainder agreed with allowing openly gay service members (26%), were neutral (32%), or weren’t sure (5%).
2. Many military personnel know or suspect that their unit includes gay or lesbian members.
Nearly one fourth (23%) of the respondents knew for certain that at least one member of their unit was gay or lesbian. A larger proportion (45%) suspected their unit included a gay or lesbian member. Of those who knew for certain, 55% said the presence of homosexual personnel in the unit was well known by others. Most of them (59%) had been told directly by the gay or lesbian individual.
3. Personnel who know their unit includes gay or lesbian members generally don’t perceive damage to morale.
About two thirds of those who knew for certain that their unit included one or more gay members did not believe that the latter’s presence affected either the respondent’s personal morale (66%) or the morale of the unit (64%). Only 28% believed it had a negative effect on their own morale, and 27% perceived a negative effect on their unit’s morale. By contrast, among respondents who neither knew nor suspected that a member of their unit was gay or lesbian, 58% expected that an openly gay or lesbian member would have a negative impact on their unit’s morale.
4. Allowing openly gay and lesbian personnel to serve is unlikely to reduce reenlistment or impair future recruitment.
The vast majority of respondents (78%) said their decision to join the military was based on their sense of duty and a desire to serve their country. A substantial proportion also said their decision was influenced by non-wage benefits, such as retirement or health care (62%), and by the prospect of receiving funds for college tuition (54%). Only 2% acknowledged “knowing that gays are not allowed to serve openly” as a factor in their decision. In a separate question, only 10% of respondents said they would not have joined the military if gay and lesbian personnel were allowed to serve openly.
* * * * *
In recent years, opinion polls of US civilian samples have shown strong support for allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military. The new Palm Center poll indicates that DADT isn’t strongly supported by combat personnel and doesn’t appear to play a significant role in enlistment decisions. Moreover, fears that the presence of openly gay personnel will damage morale are much greater among those who haven’t actually had any lesbians or gay men in their unit (insofar as they know) than among those who knew their unit included at least one sexual minority member.
In response to the survey, Congressman Marty Meehan (D-MA) said, “It is long past time to strike down ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and create a new policy that allows gays and lesbians to serve openly.”
Let’s hope the new Congress will consider data such as these and follow Mr. Meehan’s lead.
November 19, 2006
The Pentagon is encountering an inconvenient obstacle in justifying its antigay policies. It’s slowly learning it can no longer get away with equating homosexuality and sickness.
The Department of Defense (DoD) recently came under public scrutiny for its 1996 Instruction on Physical Disability Evaluation. The final appendix of the 88-page memo listed “conditions and defects” that are not considered physical disabilities but nevertheless warrant separation from the armed services. Among these conditions and defects: “Certain Mental Disorders including … Homosexuality.”
In June, the Pentagon was called to task by the US mental health profession’s two major organizations — the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association. Both APAs challenged the DoD’s factual error of labeling homosexuality a mental disorder and requested that the Instruction be corrected.
The DoD subsequently released a revised Instruction in which homosexuality was moved out of the “Certain Mental Disorders” category. But it’s still listed as a “defect” along with dyslexia, motion sickness, enuresis (bed-wetting), and “repeated veneral disease infections,” among others.
As was widely reported last week, the two APAs once again sent letters to the Pentagon. They acknowledged the DoD’s correction of the mental illness error, but noted that homosexuality isn’t a defect and pointed out that labeling it as such stigmatizes sexual minorities.
What’s particularly noteworthy about this story is the historic realignment it represents in how homosexuality is regarded by the institutions of American society.
The US military didn’t maintain regulations against homosexual activity until 1917, and then the sanctions focused on conduct, not sexual orientation. It wasn’t until the years immediately prior to World War II that the military began to exclude homosexual persons from its ranks, and that policy was based on a medical-psychiatric rationale.
Thus, the mental health profession played a central role in the original policy barring homosexuals from military service.
In 1973, however, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its official list of mental illnesses, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, which had included homosexuality since 1952. The American Psychological Association quickly endorsed this action and, in the years since, the two professional associations have taken a leading role in working to eradicate the stigma historically associated with homosexuality.
After it lost the support of psychiatry and psychology, the military sought other justifications for barring gay, lesbian, and bisexual personnel. Eventually, it settled on a rationale that emphasized supposed threats to unit cohesion and heterosexuals’ privacy rights. In essence, the Pentagon now argues that heterosexual personnel have so much antipathy toward gay people that they would be unable and unwilling to set aside that hostility for the good of the military mission. Moreover, the DoD portrays itself as powerless to confront this hostility in the manner it deals with, for example, racial discrimination or sexual harassment.
Of course, this argument is based on ideology rather than empirical data. US allies have successfully instituted policies that allow gay personnel to serve in their militaries. And empirical research reveals serious flaws in the Pentagon’s reasoning.
In the past, society’s major institutions spoke with one voice in condemning homosexuality. Organized religion declared it a sin. The law declared it a crime. And medicine — specifically psychiatry and psychology — declared it a sickness. The vocabularies used by these different institutions provided a quiver of rhetorical arrows for denigrating homosexuality and gay people — as immoral, criminal, sick.
The hegemony of heterosexism is crumbling, however. After the Supreme Court’s Lawrence v. Texas ruling, consenting adult homosexual conduct isn’t illegal in the civilan world. And, as every student of introductory psychology learns, homosexuality hasn’t been considered a sickness for more than three decades.
Maybe the recent interventions by the two APAs will help the Pentagon to begin to grasp this fact.
October 1, 2006
Paul Cameron, the antigay activist and discredited psychologist who was declared persona non grata by the American Psychological Association back in the 1980s, continues to promote discrimination under the guise of science. My website includes extensive critiques of some of his “studies.”
Although Cameron is taken seriously by some of the Christian Right, most people are able to see his work for what it is. For a great example, see The Daily Show‘s Jason Jones skewering Cameron’s arguments for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on September 18. A portion of the “Tangled Up In Bleu” clip is available on The Daily Show’s website.
[The links for this post were updated on June 3, 2008.]
September 16, 2006
Yesterday marked an historic milestone in Spain. Two male soldiers were married in a civil ceremony presided over by the mayor of Seville. According to the Associated Press, “the Defense Ministry has said it considers the wedding a personal matter and the men will be allowed to continue with their careers.”
The Spanish military’s response makes sense. As documented in several reports by the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military at UC Santa Barbara, openly gay and lesbian personnel have been successfully integrated into the militaries of England, Canada, Australia, and other countries without major problems. Similar conclusions were reached in a 1993 study by the RAND Corporation.
The wedding in Spain is a reminder that a national government can successfully grant equal marriage rights and allow sexual minorities to serve in its armed forces if it chooses to do so. The 4500 same-sex couples who have wed in Spain during the past year don’t pose a threat to the marriages of heterosexual Spaniards, And although some of the newly wedded soldiers’ comrades in arms might not like the fact that they’re married (or gay), their personal disapproval won’t make the Spanish military less able to accomplish its mission.
September 15, 2006
Yesterday the New York Times reported on renewed efforts to repeal the US military’s ban on openly gay and lesbian personnel (“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” or DADT).
Despite strong public support for allowing sexual minorities to serve, and even though most of our allies no longer restrict service in their militaries on the basis of sexual orientation, the Department of Defense (DoD) continues to argue that DADT is necessary. As in the past, its current justification for the policy is that the presence of openly gay and lesbian personnel would interfere with the military’s ability to accomplish its mission.
The essence of the DoD’s rationale is that the problem isn’t really about homosexual personnel. Rather, it’s heterosexual servicemembers and military leadership. Heterosexuals have so much antipathy for gay people, so the Pentagon believes, that they’d be unable and unwilling to serve alongside them. Moreover, the DoD claims it is powerless to prevent this hostility from interfering with the military mission. Read the rest of this entry »
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