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November 30, 2010

The Don't Ask, Don't Tell Report

After nine months of study, including the largest ever survey of troops on a personnel matter, the DOD working group instituted to review the law known as Don't Ask, Don't Tell has released its results and recommendations.

It's actually too long and complicated to summarize all of it, but I will highlight a few things that caught my eye because they repeatedly come up in comments here when DADT is discussed. (You can get a fair overview of the more general findings from Allah.)

First, in the recommendations portion of the report, the working group found that sexual orientation should not be placed alongside race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, as a class eligible for various diversity programs, tracking initiatives, and complaint resolution processes. It noted that such special treatment would itself cause problems. Instead, complaints of discrimination, if they occur, "should be dealt with through existing mechanisms—primarily the chain of command—available for complaints not involving race, color, sex, religion, or national origin."

Second, the study found that among those opposed to repeal, one of the most-repeated concerns was "open" service:

Repeatedly, we heard Service members 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. Based on our review, however, we conclude that these concerns about gay and lesbian Service members who are permitted to be “open” about their sexual orientation are exaggerated, and not consistent with the reported experiences of many Service members.

That's from the executive summary. If you dig into the report you find a marked difference between the conduct anticipated by troops who say they have never served alongside a gay or lesbian person and the troops who say they already have. The report also found that when Service members who had already served with (or believed they served with) a gay or lesbian person 92% stated that their unit's "ability to work together, was "very good," "good" or "neither good nor poor." Hence the conclusion of the study that fears of "open" service are exaggerated.

Nevertheless, to alleviate these concerns, the working group recommends training to remind troops and leaders that standards of conduct already exist which regulate inappropriate dress and appearance; acts of violence, harassment, and disrespect; and (in the Marines) public displays of affection. The working group also recommends that the Services review their standards of conduct to make sure they are sexual-orientation neutral and applied that way. Finally, the working group reminds commanders that they already have myriad tools to punish and remedy inappropriate conduct.

Third, I was struck by this particular statistic:

The survey results also reveal, within warfighting units, negative predictions about serving alongside gays decrease when in “intense combat situations.” In response to question 71a, for example, 67% of those in Marine combat arms units predict working alongside a gay man or lesbian will have a negative effect on their unit’s effectiveness in completing its mission “in a field environment or out at sea.” By contrast, in response to the same question, but during “an intense combat situation,” the percentage drops to 48%.21 See section VII. While 48% indicates a significant level of concern, the near 20-point difference in these two environments reflects that, in a combat situation, the warfighter appreciates that differences with those within his unit become less important than defeating the common enemy.

Fourth, the working group study is adamant that creating separate housing, bathroom, and shower facilities for gays and lesbians will stigmatize gays in the service (and also oddly require gays and lesbians to disclose their sexuality, something the report finds most do not want to do). The report goes so far as to refer to this idea, mentioned by many Service members during the review and publicly speculated on by Marine Commandant Gen. Amos, as "separate but equal" and flatly rejects it.

Finally, though it does not appear within the report, the whole study is premised on the idea that the DOD will have some time to implement training to minimize the risk of disruption. Sec. Gates has repeated over and over during the past month that it would be better for DOD to have some control over the process than to cede that control to the courts. He repeated that argument during the announcement today:

He said a sudden, court-issued mandate would significantly increase the risk of disruption.

"Given the present circumstances, those that choose not to act legislatively are rolling the dice that this policy will not be abruptly overturned by the courts," Gates told reporters.

He noted that the version of DADT repeal that has already passed the House and that is currently pending in the Senate contains a delay provision under which repeal actually occurs only after certification of the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. It therefore gives the military the time to prepare that the working group found necessary.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 06:10 PM

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