Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Offers Few Risks, Report Finds

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30, 2010 — The risks asso­ci­at­ed with over­turn­ing law and poli­cies to allow gays to serve open­ly in the mil­i­tary are low, if defense offi­cials and mil­i­tary lead­ers allow the prop­er amount of time to train troops on the change.
That was the mes­sage today from the lead­ers of the Pen­ta­gon work­ing group as they made pub­lic their find­ings in a nine-month study of the like­ly effect of repeal­ing the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law.

“The real­i­ty is that there already are gay men and women serv­ing in today’s mil­i­tary and most ser­vice­mem­bers rec­og­nize this,” Defense Depart­ment Gen­er­al Coun­sel Jeh C. John­son told reporters at a Pen­ta­gon news brief­ing announc­ing the report’s release. 

In March, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates appoint­ed John­son and Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, com­mand­ing gen­er­al of U.S. Army Europe, to lead the com­pre­hen­sive review. The review team con­sist­ed of 49 mil­i­tary mem­bers and 19 civil­ians, and reached out to hun­dreds of thou­sands of ser­vice­mem­bers in what offi­cials say was the largest assess­ment of mil­i­tary men and women’s feel­ings about any per­son­nel issue ever. 

“Based on all that we saw and heard, our assess­ment is that when cou­pled with the prompt imple­men­ta­tion of the rec­om­men­da­tions we offer, the risk of repeal to over­all mil­i­tary effec­tive­ness is low,” Ham said. 

Repeal, in the short term, “like­ly would bring about some lim­it­ed and iso­lat­ed dis­rup­tion to unit cohe­sion and reten­tion,” Ham said. But, he added, “We do not believe this dis­rup­tion will be wide­spread or long-last­ing, and can be ade­quate­ly addressed by the rec­om­men­da­tions we offer.” 

In the long term, John­son said, “with a con­tin­ued and sus­tained com­mit­ment to the 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 with oth­ers in history.” 

The review team heard from 115,052 ser­vice­mem­bers and 44,266 mil­i­tary spous­es in response to its sur­vey on the mat­ter, and anoth­er 72,384 com­ments from ser­vice­mem­bers and their fam­i­lies who respond­ed online regard­ing the issue, Ham said. They held 95 in-per­son forums with 24,000 ser­vice­mem­bers at 51 mil­i­tary instal­la­tions, and held 140 small­er focus groups, they said. 

They also con­tract­ed Rand Corp. to update its 1993 study on gays in the mil­i­tary and solicit­ed feed­back from vet­er­ans groups and orga­ni­za­tions for and against repeal of the law, as well as many for­eign allies who allow gay ser­vice­mem­bers to serve open­ly. In addi­tion, they met with for­mer ser­vice­mem­bers who are gay, includ­ing some dis­charged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, they said. 

Their find­ings showed “a wide­spread atti­tude among a sol­id major­i­ty of ser­vice­mem­bers that repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will not have a neg­a­tive impact on their abil­i­ty to con­duct their mis­sion,” John­son and Ham wrote in the report. That response was espe­cial­ly true among those who have served with peo­ple they knew were gay. 

Among the sur­vey respon­dents, 69 per­cent said they believed they had worked with some­one who is gay. Of those who knew they had worked with a gay per­son, 92 per­cent said their expe­ri­ence was very good, good, or nei­ther good nor poor. 

Among spous­es, 74 per­cent said repeal would have no bear­ing on whether they want­ed their spouse to stay in the mil­i­tary, com­pared to 12 per­cent who said they would want their spouse to leave sooner. 

The group’s find­ings also showed, how­ev­er, a sig­nif­i­cant minor­i­ty of ser­vice­mem­bers who are con­cerned that repeal would jeop­ar­dize their cohe­sive­ness or mis­sion effec­tive­ness. Those with neg­a­tive views of repeal most­ly serve in ground com­bat forces, Spe­cial Forces and the chap­lain corps, they found. 

In speak­ing to ser­vice­mem­bers about their con­cerns, John­son said, most neg­a­tive feel­ings were based on moral or reli­gious beliefs, or on mis­per­cep­tions and stereo­types of homosexuals. 

“Repeat­ed­ly, we heard ser­vice­mem­bers express the view that “open” homo­sex­u­al­i­ty would lead to wide­spread and overt dis­plays of effem­i­na­cy among men, homo­sex­u­al promis­cu­ity, harass­ment, and unwel­come advances with­in units, inva­sions of per­son­al pri­va­cy, and an over­all ero­sion of stan­dards of con­duct, unit cohe­sion, and moral­i­ty,” he said. John­son and Ham said those con­cerns are con­trary to their findings. 

In speak­ing with cur­rent and for­mer ser­vice­mem­bers who are gay, John­son said, “We repeat­ed­ly heard a patri­ot­ic desire to serve and defend the nation, sub­ject to the same rules as every­one else. From them, we heard expressed many of the same val­ues that we heard over and over again from ser­vice­mem­bers at large – love of coun­try, hon­or, respect, integri­ty, and ser­vice over self. 

“We sim­ply can’t square the real­i­ty of these peo­ple with the per­cep­tions about ‘open’ ser­vice,” he said. 

Ser­vice­mem­bers are not expect­ed to change their per­son­al reli­gious views or moral beliefs about homo­sex­u­al­i­ty, John­son and Ham said, and codes of con­duct do not need to be changed. Rather, ser­vice­mem­bers should be remind­ed that they will con­tin­ue to be judged on their actions and behavior. 

“Ser­vice­mem­bers are expect­ed to treat all oth­ers with dig­ni­ty and respect, con­sis­tent with the core val­ues that already exist in each ser­vice,” John­son said. “The key mes­sage is this: if repeal comes, gay and les­bian ser­vice­mem­bers must be treat­ed like every­one else.” 

Although many have voiced con­cern that chang­ing the law would be dis­rup­tive dur­ing wartime, John­son said the group’s find­ings sug­gest oth­er­wise. “Gen­er­al Ham and I both are con­vinced our mil­i­tary can do this even in a time of war,” he said. 

“We do not under­es­ti­mate the chal­lenges in imple­ment­ing a change in this law,” John­son added. “But nei­ther do we under­es­ti­mate the abil­i­ty of our ded­i­cat­ed ser­vice men and women to adapt to such change and unite to defend the nation when called on to do so.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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