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Pentagon Survey in Preparation for Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Denounced

Recent optimism caused by advancements made by Congress and the administration of President Barack Obama to repeal the ban on openly gay and lesbian individuals serving in the military, commonly known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), has been tempered by the publication of a survey distributed to 400,000 servicemembers as part of efforts by the Pentagon’s Comprehensive Review Working Group to gauge what effects implementing a repeal of DADT could have on the military. Bills in both houses of Congress contain a repeal as part of the budget authorization for the Department of Defense—the House of Representatives “repealed the policy as part of [its] version of the annual defense spending bill,” and the Senate is expected to follow suit.[1] The Working Group must present its findings to President Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Michael Mullen by December 1, 2010, and the results of the survey will be included in that report. Relying in part on the Working Group’s findings, President Obama, Secretary Gates, and Admiral Mullen must certify that repealing DADT would not have any detrimental effect on the military in order for the repeal to become law.
Copies of the survey were shared with news outlets by the Palm Center, a think tank at the University of California–Santa Barbara that studies issues related to “gender, sexuality, and the military,” which received it from an unnamed servicemember.[2] The Pentagon did not intend for the survey, which cost $4.5 million to produce and disseminate, to be released to the public. The first portion of the survey contains general questions on the respondent’s service history, family, and residence; however, the remainder asks about “experiences serving with people they think are gay and for opinions on how repealing the ban might affect retention, referrals, unit cohesion, privacy and military family life.”[3]
The questions in the survey display obvious bias and some are highly offensive. The survey consistently uses the term “homosexual,” rather than referring to individuals as “gay or lesbian,” despite the fact that it is “well established . . . that the use of the term ‘homosexual’ induces bias in survey research,” according to Servicemembers United, an organization for gay and lesbian people serving in the armed forces and their supporters.[4] Questions regarding what reaction the respondent would have if forced to shower or share quarters with a gay or lesbian colleague insinuate that a heterosexual servicemember would have cause to feel discomfort or trepidation about sharing these facilities with such a colleague, perpetuating homophobia and the damaging and fallacious stereotype of gay and lesbian individuals being unable to control their sexual desires. Furthermore, it is extremely unlikely that any of the questions regarding gay and lesbian servicepeople would ever be asked of another minority group, as such questions would relegate that group to second-class status.
Negative reaction to the survey was swift and forceful. Advocacy groups derided the survey’s “overwhelming focus on the potential negative aspects of repeal and little or no inclusion of the potential positive aspects of repeal or the negative aspects of the current policy,” and noted that “surveying the troops on an issue like this is problematic from the start.”[5] Others similarly questioned the wisdom of polling the troops, such as Admiral Gary Roughead, the chief of naval operations, who observed that the Pentagon has “never assessed the force because it is not our practice to go within our military and poll our force to determine if they like the laws of the land or not.” Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress posed the questions: “Are they going to poll the troops on whether they want happy hours or discount cigarettes? . . . Where does it stop—should we get out of Afghanistan?”[6]
“SIECUS is dismayed that the Pentagon would disseminate this unprecedented, biased survey regarding repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” said Jen Heitel Yakush, director of public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. “We strongly support repealing this unnecessary and prejudiced law and look forward to the time when the military welcomes all qualified people who wish to serve.”

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[1] Ed O’Keefe and Craig Whitlock, “U.S. military says questions about gays would help if ‘don’t ask’ were ended,” Washington Post, 10 July 2010, accessed 21 July 2010, <>.

[2] “Home,” Palm Center: Blueprints for Sound Public Policy, accessed 21 July 2010, <>.

[3] Ed O’Keefe, “Gates asks gays in military to respond to ‘don’t ask’ survey,” Washington Post, 9 July 2010, accessed 21 July 2010, <>.

[4] Servicemembers United, “Briefing Memo: Bias in the 2010 DoD Comprehensive Review Survey of Uniformed Active Duty and Reserve Service Members,” 9 July 2010, accessed 21 July 2010, <>.

[5] “DADT Survey Still Biased, Derogatory,” Servicemembers United (9 July 2010), accessed 21 July 2010, <>; O’Keefe and Whitlock, “U.S. military says questions about gays would help if ‘don’t ask’ were ended.”

[6] Mark Thompson, “Why Is the Military Polling Troops About Gays?” Time, 12 July 2010, accessed 21 July 2010, <,8599,2003075,00.html>.