Sep 20, 2010

Aaron Belkin will be online at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 20 to discuss his Outlook piece titled Five myths about 'don't ask, don't tell'.

When you discuss polls of service personnel, you didn't mention that polls of Iraq and Afghanistan combat vets shows support for repealing DADT. A Lake Research Partners poll this year shows the following: * Iraq and Afghanistan veterans believe being gay or lesbian has no bearing on a service member's ability to perform their duties. Overall, 60% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans agree with that statement, including 42% who strongly agree. * An overwhelming majority of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans say it is personally acceptable to them if gay and lesbian people were allowed to serve openly in the military. Seven in ten (73%) say it is acceptable, including 42% who say it would be acceptable and 31% who would find it acceptable even though they would not like it. Only a quarter (25%) would find it unacceptable. * The notion that today's military members are uncomfortable around gay and lesbian people is unfounded; the data prove it is untrue. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans say they are personally comfortable in the presence of gays and lesbians. Seven in ten Iraq and Afghanistan veterans (73%) are personally comfortable, including 37% who are very comfortable. Only a quarter (23%) is uncomfortable, and hardly anyone is very uncomfortable (only 7%). See this link.

Given this, who cares about what the brass or the chaplains think? They're not shooting it out with the Taliban. And as for the chaplains and their views about gays being abominations, no one with this abominable attitude shoud be allowed to serve in any capacity. I do not pay my taxes to support religious bigotry. If repealing DADT purges the military of these bigots, that's just one more reason to support it. In fact, that is reason enough to repeal DADT.

The data are very clear and, as you suggest, polls show that the troops are quite comfortable interacting with gay peers.  The rhetoric of military brass has been disconnected from this reality for more than a decade.  The brass would have you believe that foot soldiers just can't handle serving with gays.  The truth is that the foot soldiers in foxholes are fine, and that it's the brass that has the problem.  That has been changing recently, however, as illustrated by Chairman Mullen's historic remarks in favor of fairness and equality.

I think one thing to note about your article is that the timing of DADT was during Tailhook, which if you recall had a large ripple effect throughout the military. IMHO, it would have passed no problem if it hadn't been presented in this sexually charged era of the military.

That's interesting.  There were a lot of other issues that got implicated in the 1993 fight over gays in the military that had little if anything to do with the specific issue at hand.  We were in the middle of an AIDS panic.  We had a new, untested President with no military experience.  We had a new era of peace with no enemy at hand.    Part of Gayle Rubin's argument in her classic study "Thinking Sex" is that moral panics are moments when all kinds of anxieties get expressed at oblique angles, which means that people are worried about one thing, but they act as if they're worried about something else.  The DADT debate, I think, was a text book illustration of this dynamic

It is true most of Europe's militaries now accepted gays. But not in Asia, South America, Africa and the Middle East. Correct?

Twenty five foreign militaries allow gays and lesbians to utter the words "I am gay" without gettting fired.  Most are in Europe, but not all.  Israel, South Africa, Australia come to mind.  We are also starting to see movement in some Asian and South American countries.

I worked with gays people in DC and many are liberal Democrats and anti-military. Why would gays people served in the military?? Maybe they can ask for a bigger defense budget.

My sense is that gay troops want to serve in the military for the same reasons that all other troops want to serve, a combination of economic opportunity and patriotism. 

I appreciate in your article that you state integration and women in combat are not similar. Around the time of the Panama invasion when female MPs came under fire, the Joint Chiefs testified in Congress and essentially said they wouldn't lift the ban on women in combat because they (the Chiefs) couldn't deal with it on an emotional level. We know America loses its brain when a woman is captured (Jessica Lynch and others) and we don't care what her sexual orientation might be. Any bets that now the only female hiker is out of Iran the two guys remaining aren't going to get much press?

All that said, it is possible to draw some comparisons, perhaps, and say that in the same way that the military was able to deal with other difficult integrations, it will be able to lift its gay ban.  The research suggests that lifting the gay ban will be much easier than racial or gender integration.

Isn't it true that many, if not most, of the service members who have been discharged told someone about their sexual orientation, and not because of anything the military did to find out about it?

Not quite.  Most discharges are "tell" discharges, meaning that the service member steps forward and say "I am gay."  But that doesn't quite mean that the military didn't do anything to find out about it.  In about half of "tell" discharge cases, you're absolutely right that the service member is just looking to get out of the military.  But in the other half, folks make statements because they can't live a lie any longer, or because they're facing harassment in their unit and have no other way to handle it.  "Don't ask, don't tell" is directly responsible for these situations, because if it weren't for the policy, gay troops wouldn't be forced by law to live a lie, and if/when they faced harassment, they could report it.

I know the media often mentions the Arab linguists/translators who get discharged, but didn't the GAO study this issue a few years back and found out that many of the soldiers who were discharged that also had gone through the Defense Language Institute scored below the median?

GAO got heavily politicized under President Bush, and really tried to pull a fast one in that particular study.  Yes it is true that on a five point scale, the Arabic linguists who were fired tended to score below three.  What GAO failed to explain, however, is that DLI only teaches to level 3!  Palm did an analysis of this exact issue and if you e-mail me, I will find the link and send it to you.

Are there any federal regulations governing the interaction of US troops with our allies like Great Britain who allow openly gay soldiers?

Not that I know of.  The Palm Center did a study of U.S. troops interacting with gays and lesbians from foreign militaries. It is posted on the 'publications' section at

What do you believe will be the most difficult challenge in the military post-repeal? What suggestions do you have for meeting this challenge?

I don't think the transition will be difficult.  That, at least, is what the research says.  The troops are already serving with gays and lesbians, and everyone knows this.  That said, there is a new group called OutServe made up exclusively of openly gay and lesbian troops, and they can play a useful role in mediating between the needs of the Pentagon and the needs of LGB troops.

I recall having to sign a form when I entered the military in 2002 saying that I was not gay (or some such convoluted language). Isn't that a violation of the policy right off the bat? Are people who violate the "don't ask" part of the equation ever punished?

SLDN found a lot of violations of "don't ask," in the first few years of the policy, and if you look at their annual reports from the mid-90's, you will see cases like yours.  I am not aware of anyone who has ever been punished for asking.

I'm a straight female vet and I strongly support the repeal of DADT. I get a kick out of hearing people say it would make them "uncomfortable" to serve with gay members. I can't even count the number of times I was uncomfortable in the military, starting with getting screamed at in the ear at boot camp. If I complained, my superiors told me to "suck it up." The only way this is going to fail is if superiors try to sabotage their gay subordinates by empathizing with people who are uncomfortable with them. I think the brass will have to be vigilant for this type of behavior.

Thank you for your service to the nation. I agree. This is all about leadership.  The RAND corporation has said that if leaders at all levels endorse the policy, there will be no problem.  This is why foreign militaries have had such an easy time lifting their bans.

I recently read Randy Shilts amazing book "Conduct Unbecoming" about gays and lesbians serving in the time before DADT. One of my favorite parts is the story about naval officer and later humanitarian Tom Dooley, who was gay. He now has a statute in the grotto at the University of Notre Dame.

I wonder if Notre Dame knows!

Hello and thank you for joining me on this live forum to discuss my piece in the Post on "don't ask, don't tell."  There is a lot of noise about this week's Senate vote but the issue boils down to just one thing.  Do we, as a nation, want to discriminate against loyal gay and lesbian troops or not.  I look forward to hearing from you for the next hour

First, I am an active senior NCO who bleieves DADT should be repealed on principle. It bothers me not a bit if open gays and lesbians serve.

One aspect of the debate that gets lost, however, is that fact that a lot of people take advantage of DADT's quick and honorable discharge.

The big "scandal" a few years ago of the "Arabic translators" who were kicked out was sold dishonestly. A colleague of mine was an instructor at the Defense Language Institute at the time, and what happened was that a bunch of students figured out that they could get the Army to teach them Arabic, then they could "come out" just before graduation, get an almost instantaneous discharge then sell their newly acquired language skills on the open market. So they did.

My colleague says at least some weren't even gay, but since the only burden of proof is a declaration they were good to go. I also had a roommate who was gay who used that fact to get an honorable discharge when her flight school application was not approved.

Are these exceptions? Possibly, but who can really say. As I said, I believe DADT should be repealed mostly because I see nothing wrong with gay people serving, but I'd also like to see this easy discharge door shut.

Thank you for your service to the country, and for your thoughtful remarks.  I agree that one of the saddest parts of DADT is the free get-out-of-jail card it gives to anyone who wants out of the military, including straight people who can fake being gay.  Many linguists I know about actually did want to stay in uniform and were booted against their will, but I know you are right in that some people use the policy to get out of service obligations>

The interesting thing about that is that we're smack dab in the middle of another one, given all this stuff about pedophile priests. The big thing that confuses me about these panics over gay people, whether it be gay marriage or gays in the military, is that they seem to center around gay men. Lesbians seem like a tacked-on afterthought. I wonder why that is -- surely if men are scary, so are we! My personal guess is it's got something to do with masculinity and anxieties about that, and that lesbians scare people less because we're not perceived as a direct threat to it in a way that gay men are...

Yes, women get erased from many of these conversations, and to the extent that I have been partially responsible for that, I apologize.  There is a lot of racial erasing too. Note how many spokespersons for the repeal movement are people of color.  Not many!

I think you need to consider that there are gay people of all backgrounds and political leanings. It may just be that more liberal gay people are more comfortable being out, because straight liberals tend to be more accepting than (some) straight conservatives.

I think you are right that many gay troops are independents, conservatives, republicans.  That would be interesting to study whether outness is correlated with political affiliation.  Perhaps there is already research on that but I haven't seen it.

I served in the military for 22 years, so did my father. My fiance was in combat in Panama and the 1st gulf war. We're all liberal democrats. We all voted for President Obama. I voted for him from Camp Victory, Iraq. We also support repeal of DADT. There are all kinds of people in today's military.

In my visits to military universities I have noticed an interesting phenomenon in that liberal troops often feel that they have to remain closeted about their political beliefs in ways that echo how gay/lesbian troops sometimes have to remain closeted about their orientations.

Isn't this a generational thing too, the younger troops are more inclusive? Didn't we have this discussion when troops were integrated and again with women?

Gallup found that 91% of young adults support repeal.  But the majority of middle aged and older people support repeal too.  Even republicans support repeal (though the majority is slim).  You have to slice and dice the public into pretty narrow demographics to find groups who continue to support discrimination.  Senator McCain is clearly on the wrong side of history.

Aaron - Many thanks to you and the Palm Center - you are unique in providing objective, data-based information about DADT, rather than emotional arguments. Can you explain this "research" the Family Research Council quotes as proving that most American's DON'T support repeal of DADT?

There have been more than a dozen polls in recent years financed by everyone from Gallup to Fox News to University of California, all of which found that between 58 and 81 percent of the public supports repeal.  Traditional values groups paid for a single poll that found that a majority prefers discrimination, but when I looked at their question wording, it was quite funky, and was basically a push poll.  The other polls all ask some variant of "should gays and lesbians be allowed to serve openly in the military."  The traditional values poll used question wording that tried to lead the respondent to a particular answer.  That said, polls are just snapshots, and they don't always find the same things.  That's why you have to triangulate across a range of polls rather than relying on a single poll

Up front, I find DADT a dunder-headed and immoral policy. I've also never served in the military. So, please explain "unit cohesion" -- which seems to work vis a vis race, religion, gender, socio-economic background -- and how it is thwarted by sexual preferences.

The unit cohesion argument is fake.  The argument says that straight troops cant trust gays, so that if people are allowed to utter the words "I am gay," units wont be able to form bonds of trust.  I have published a number of studies on the phoniness of this balony, all posted under publications at  Or read Nathaniel Frank's book Unfriendly Fire.

Just as a point of clarification; you are legally allowed to be gay in the military and make that statement. The burden then falls on the person to somehow prove he won't act on that lifestyle. With that in mind, harrassing someone about their actual or supposed homosexuality is prohibited and reportable and it's been done. I do understand the fear aspect for the person doing the reporting and what it might turn in to, however.

Very good points. 

While I can't imagine how hard it was to integrate the military in a segregated society (most especially in the South where the majority of the training bases are)--Korean War helped with that considerably--simply turning off DADT isn't going to be that easy.

There are numerous rules and policies that will have to be ironed out, to say nothing about changing the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

At some point, in addition to the mundane about who can share a bathroom with another person in a domritory setting (men and women cannot, for instance), we're going to get quickly in to whether a sam-sex couple is afforded the same health benefits, life insurance, family separation pay, etc. In other words, is the military going to be the only part of the Federal government which reconizes same-sex marriages and what would that mean to States who don't have to. This isn't as easy as it may sound from a distance.

I respectfully disagree. The research is quite clear that all you need is a single nondiscrimination standard that applies equally to everyone, plus leadership support for the new policy.  Nothing else matters.  Look, we informally suspend our ban every time we go to war (and actually there are official regulations that send gays to combat during wartime and then initiate discharge once the bullets stop flying).  I'm sure that the organization that figured out how to win WWII can figure out a policy transition that every other most other western countries have managed.

I'm female and married. When I say, "My husband", I declare myself straight. Can a member of the military be married to a same sex partner (legal in several states)? If they are, does that violate DADT? Or could they serve if they only said "my spouse" or "my partner," didn't have a picture on their desk at work, etc.?

It seems to me that many DADT "outings" are classified as "tell" and not "ask." I have several gay friends who refer to their spouse and let people assume heterosexual. They aren't telling.

But if asked, they will state their partner is same-sex. But that is someone asking, not them telling...

Under the current DADT law, getting married or attempting to get married to someone of the same sex is grounds for automatic discharge.  The law pretendts that it is a regulation of conduct/behavior but as Harvard professor Janet Halley has shown, it is a regulation of simply being gay even if you one doesn't do anything wrong.  Pretty much any evidence (holding hands, taking a walk with someone, etc etc) can be interpreted as evidence of having a gay identity (legally defined as a propensity to engage in same-sex sexual conduct), which in turn gets you booted.

Thanks so much for joining me for the forum....I enjoyed it!

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