Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Think

Today's New York Times reports on a data dump obtained by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network about how many people the military kicked out for being gay in 2007. There was a slight uptick in the number of discharges in 2007 over 2006, but what is shocking is the increase in the number of women targeted for expulsion from the ranks. According to SLDN:

In FY 2007 women accounted for 14% of the Army's active duty force while making up 46% of DADT (Don't Ask, Don't Tell) discharges compared to FY 2006 when women represented 17% of the Army and made up 35% of DADT discharges. Similarly, FY 2007 data from the Air Force shows women are 20% of the force but made up 49% of DADT discharges. That number is up from FY 2006 when females made-up 20% of the Air Force and 49% of DADT discharges.

. . . According to statistics obtained from the Pentagon for Fiscal Year 2007, the armed forces continue discharging nearly two service members per day. The separation data shows the number of discharges under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" have fallen by 50% since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the beginning of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. In FY 2007, at least 627 military personnel were dismissed under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on openly gay service members, up from 612 in FY 2006.

In 2007 the Army discharged 302 soldiers, up from 280 the year before. The Air Force dismissed 91 airmen, down slightly from 102 in 2006; the Navy discharged 166 sailors, the same as the previous year; and 68 Marines were discharged, up from 64 the year before. The Coast Guard, which discharged 11 service members in 2006, has not responded to SLDN's requests for data filed with under the Freedom of Information Act.

A few comments on this story.

First, umm, there's the small fact that we're at war. (Or, at least, the military is at war while most of the rest of us are at the mall.) The services cannot afford the luxury of a ban on openly gay personnel any more than they can afford a ban on smart personnel or fit personnel or good-shooting personnel. Our all-volunteer military needs every American who wants to serve -- period. This law makes no sense. To borrow a great phrase from Lawrence Korb: What matters is that you can shoot straight, not whether you are straight.

Second, there's the targeting of women. This is problematic because there are already gender tensions in the military. Introduce the targeting of women for discharge under this law, and you magnify those tensions considerably. I had several straight female colleagues on active duty who faced scrutiny because they were single or athletic or just plain tough (the way you'd expect an Army officer to be), and I think the witch-hunt dynamic is far worse for women than for military men. If we care about unit cohesion, this needs to stop.

By Phillip Carter |  June 23, 2008; 5:00 PM ET  | Category:  Military Manpower
Previous: A New Job for a Controversial General | Next: In Iraq, Still No Strategy


Please email us to report offensive comments.

There's reason to believe a disproportionate number of gays in the military will be lesbians.

As a recent study claims:

Brain scans have provided the most compelling evidence yet that being gay or straight is a biologically fixed trait.

The scans reveal that in gay people, key structures of the brain governing emotion, mood, anxiety and aggressiveness resemble those in straight people of the opposite sex.

If that's true, you'd expect the gays who have the same aggresiveness, emotion, and mood as men, namely lesbians, to join the armed forces at a higher rate than gay men with feminized brains. No witch hunt required; they're just catching what's actually out there in violation of the policy.

Posted by: Dylan | June 23, 2008 6:26 PM

I agree: it needs to stop, and what needs to stop is "Don't Ask - Don't Tell", by allowing gay service memebrs to serve openly.

Think of it as an easy way to purge the military of some right-wing bigots.

That's exactly how I do think about it too:
I'd never trust someone who judges people in that way to make life and death decisions about anything.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 23, 2008 6:27 PM

When I was in back in the '90s the Army had an affinity for bunking soldiers 2-4 per room. Men were bunked with men and women were bunked with women for obvious reasons. I personally could care less about gays in the military except for that little fact. As soon as they figure that situation out in a way that is not detrimental to good order and discipline, I will be more then happy to welcome them.

Posted by: Dawnsblood | June 23, 2008 6:29 PM

Being outnumbered by mails at a ratio of seven to one, or more in many bases, is a big factor here. Most young women servicemembers at their first duty station are overwhelmed by the hundreds of young men they meet, many of whom lack social graces. This includes outright and course propositions for sexual intercourse by total strangers, as well as crude pick up lines, and much lewd mocking. This is especially true of girls brought up in rural and suburban areas who are not used to street-side catcalls.

They turn to their own for solace and protection. Many fall prey to more experienced ladies who are a lot more subtle in their advances than the average 18- or 19-year old male.

It haas nothing to do with Dylan's imaginary biological explanation.

Posted by: Jane | June 23, 2008 10:04 PM


I think you hit it on the nail when you said, "we are at war." I think this is the largest factor for the increased number of discharges as a result of DADT. In my experience, and please someone tell me they've had a different experience, every single soldier I've seen chaptered out on the DADT was done because the soldier asked to be chaptered out using the DADT as an excuse (in some cases a reason) to leave (avoid deployment, go home early, or other valid personal reasons).

So I am confused. If my experiences with DADT are more the rule than the exception, is this law really enabling the leadership to get rid of "undesirables" or keeping good potential recruits away, or instead is it giving soldiers a way out if they find the service isn't what they hoped or expected?

On a slightly related topic that I hope IRR jumps all over:

"Lieutenant General David P. Valcourt, TRADOC'S deputy commanding general and chief of staff, said only three of
ten American citizens ages 17-24 qualify for entry into the armed services without a waiver for medical, physical, or moral reasons."

I wonder if there is any validity to this or is this study an attempt to justify the lowering of recruiting standards.

Posted by: bg | June 23, 2008 10:49 PM

I think Bg's post deserves a lot of thoughtful consideration. In my experience with the U.S. Army, stretching from the 60s to the 80s on active duty, with involvement as a civilian employee and consultant past the turn of the century, the Army has never gone out actively looking for troops who might be homosexual. There really has always been a "don't ask, don't tell" philosophy, with action only being taken when the conduct slapped one across the face.

The point? The Army has never done witch hunts, so far as I know. And then we think of the fact that when I was on active duty, discharge for homosexual activity resulted in "bad paper," e.g., Bad Conduct Discharge. Inasmuch as a BCD is a disqualifier for a lot of veterans' benefits, not to mention the stigma attached to it, it's something to be avoided. Now, as I understand it, someone discharged under DADT doesn't get "bad paper," and is therefore not deemed ineligible for veterans' benefits.

One can easily construct a scenario wherein someone faced with an Army one didn't expect, and duties one doesn't like, opts for an easy way out. Such stories have been kicking around for years.

Just sayin'.

Posted by: Publius | June 23, 2008 11:31 PM

"Lieutenant General David P. Valcourt, TRADOC'S deputy commanding general and chief of staff, said only three of
ten American citizens ages 17-24 qualify for entry into the armed services without a waiver for medical, physical, or moral reasons."

bg- There is no mention of a "study" in Valcourt's comment. Just a comment, and one which is so sweeping that it begs challenge. And, if there is a "study", we, as a nation, need to know why our youth are so "medically, physically and morally" deficient, in the hope that some if this deficiency can be addressed and corrected. One would think that this 70% deficiency would result in a public policy action to improve the lot of our youth, whether or not they wanted to enlist. At least the "medical and physical" issues.

I am more inclined to agree with you that this is a "woe is me" attempt to justify the necessary lowering of recruiting standards. I say "necessary" only in that it appears that widening the "eligible" population is needed to fill the ranks.

Do you really think Valcourt is capable of saying something like, "Well, we have an unpopular war that is being fought solely by volunteers. We can only draw from the population that is willing to serve under these circumstances, and the number in this population that meets our former standards is insufficient to meet our needs. Thus, we must adjust our standards to meet the realities of those who are willing to enter military service in the current environment."

Of course, Valcourt's "medical, physical and moral" doesn't even address the low test scores/mental category now being accepted.

Pure horse-puckey.


Posted by: Aviator47 | June 24, 2008 3:47 AM


SDLN and related publications have turned up isolated instances of witch hunts, involving homosexual servicemembers. However, they are more indicative of bad leadership, which we have no shortage of.

On the other hand, I've read statistics that many of the AF DADT discharges are in basic training, which gives substance to BG's supposition, that many of the DADT are voluntary discharges.

Posted by: Jimmy | June 24, 2008 12:20 PM

Dawnsblood, gay and straight people share dorm rooms, houses and apartments all over the country. We haven't had to ban gay people from universities to save straight people the horror of having to share living space with someone who might, but probably doesn't, find them sexually attractive.

Posted by: Dragonfly | June 24, 2008 12:54 PM

When I was a young man, gay men made me uneasy, because I had no real experience of living or dealing with them.

I am older now, and have gained the wisdom that gays are no more difficult to have around or to be in close contact with than blacks or Christians.

Gays are often better colleagues because they have learned to guard their words, and often think twice before they speak.

My experience is that it is people who are selfishly rude, or who feels morally superior and looks down on others, that are the hardest persons with whom to share a small space, or to work with.

If you have ever been hit on by a man you will understand what women go trough day in, day out, yet the women continue to serve gallantly. If they can learn to turn down daily advances from soldiers and officers, so can the men. It's not that difficult, you just say, "Thanks for the compliment, but no thanks."

I live in a town that has recently attracted a large influx of gay population. To many people's surprise it makes the place a better place to live and work. They are responsible, work hard and contribute a lot of time and effort into the community.

While I have never spent time in a foxhole, I do know what close quarters and stressful conditions are, having often been to sea on long voyages in very small boats.

When choosing a person to work with in close quarters, under stressful conditions, I no longer give any consideration at all to their sexual orientation. There are far more serious qualifications to consider.

All things being equal, I would rather have someone who can keep their calm and good humor when things get rough.

There is a toughness and wrynesses that young gays develop when growing up in a modern American high school. I think that puts them in good stead for developing a natural operational awareness.

There is a bit of the us-against them that helps young gay teens to forms strong support elegances with their colleagues, this is the same sort of mutual support for one another we try to install in recruits.

All things being equal, I now think that the young gay high school graduate is probably more emotionally independent and pre-hardened than most other candidates. They have probably taken a bunch of taunting and learned to hold their fire.
In COIN we need young men and women who see the shades of gray.

Posted by: JamesM | June 24, 2008 3:40 PM

Born Again Bible Thumpers don't want women or homosexuals in the military.

That's all this is.

It's also old news.

Know your military and its, sadly, Cro-Magnon mindset at the top.

Posted by: Martk | June 25, 2008 11:19 AM

The guy who is afraid to share a dorm room with a gay service member should ask himself if a woman should be afraid of having to bunk in the same dorm with him? Assuming all str8 men are rapists is a canard of the feminist far-left; applying the same assumption to gays is equally unhinged.

I dated a Major in the Canadian Forces a few years after they got rid of anti-gay discrimination. From the people I met when I stayed with him on base for a weekend or three, his sexuality was totally not an issue. They were just hoping he'd meet someone nice and settle down 'cause he was such a nice guy, and well liked. He'd served in Bosnia, was doing a rotation teaching, and last I heard was at HQ in Ottawa, just another career officer.

Same thing in every other military (eg Britain) that has stopped discriminating. Gay people just want to get on with their own lives free of the constant fear of being singled out for abuse by troubled peers or superiors who are looking for a cheap and easy scapegoat.

And for those who would like to think that there are no witch-hunts in the US, educate yourselves. Try investigative reporter Randy Shilts' exhaustive 1993 book 'Conduct Unbecoming" for more specific details of witch-hunts and entrapment than you can stomach.

Of course there are moments of humour, in one case investigators spent much effort to find the ringleader, some woman named Dorothy, because all the gays were "friends of Dorothy."

Nobody told them Dorothy meant Judy Garland, as in the Oz movie and 'somewhere over the rainbow.'

Posted by: ArtD | June 25, 2008 4:59 PM

I agree that the DADT policy should end.

I had a classmate in college who is openly gay, served as an Army infantryman who was openly gay, and made it to his honorable. He enlisted as a political act to challenge DADT. He expected to be kicked out from the beginning, wasn't, and as it turned out, he was good at soldiering and found his military experience to be as personally rewarding as many of us found ours to be. (As far as being 11B . . . well, he's a Texan, too.) It's one anecdote, but how many people like my college classmate could have been, should have been quality soldiers, but aren't as motivated as him to challenge DADT? Given the fit, I also wonder if he would have re-enlisted, or more likely sought a commission, if DADT wasn't a factor.

Allies who operate Western, modern militaries allow openly gay soldiers to serve. We already have gay soldiers serving honorably and well, despite the DADT policy. For those who self-select into our volunteer force, homosexuality doesn't affect individual soldier competencies. In my opinion, removing a soldier over his sexual orientation if that soldier meets or exceeds the standard in the relevant areas helps to devalue the standard. As far as unit cohesion, it shouldn't have more adverse effect than integrating gender, religion, race, etc. - an openly gay soldier should be expected to avoid proscribed behavior as much as the next soldier. All soldiers should value the team above self. If 2 openly gay soldiers choose to have a romantic (non-fraternizing) relationship, it should be judged by the same standard as male and female soldier romantic relationships.

If DADT is used as a tempting, relatively painless backdoor out for soldiers facing a moment of weakness of character, then that backdoor should be shut.

Whether in war or in peace-time (after all, we go to war with the military we have, not the one we should have had), we should strive to attract our best to the uniform from across our diverse society. The current policy against gay soldiers is, at best, unfair and severely discouraging to one part of our society and off-putting to many of the rest of us.

Posted by: Eric Chen | June 26, 2008 9:54 AM

If you want the law changed, take it up with congress. They are required to change the UCMJ for such behavior to be legal.

Article 125 - Sodomy
"(a) Any person subject to this chapter who engages in unnatural carnal copulation with another person of the same or opposite sex or with an animal is guilty of sodomy. Penetration, however slight, is sufficient
to complete the offense.

(b) Any person found guilty of sodomy shall by punished as a court-martial may direct."

It is unnatural carnal copulation for a person to take into that person's mouth or anus the sexual organ of another person or of an animal; or to place that person's sexual organ in the mouth or anus of another person or of an animal; or to have carnal copulation in any opening of the body, except the sexual parts, with another person; or to have carnal copulation with an animal.

Maximum punishment.

(1) By force and without consent. Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for life without eligibility for parole.

(2) With a child who, at the time of the offense, has attained the age of 12 but is under the age of 16 years. Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for 20 years.

(3) With a child under the age of 12 years at the time of the offense. Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for life without eligibility for parole.

(4) Other cases. Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for 5 years.

Posted by: DJ Elliott | June 29, 2008 1:09 PM

Yes, if this is being used as an easy out for those with second thoughts, that door should be shut. Now.

However, I remember atmospherics inside the Pentagon when the Clinton Administration came in and this issue emerged publically. Everyone treated DADT in the most abstract, theoretical terms, focusing on "what's fair", or "what's right." In fact the whole debate, on both sides, was a luxury.

Now we have two wars where units could and do end up bunking in the field for many days at a time, where shelter might be a two-room house in the hinterlands where twenty men are in close quarters, where "abstract" becomes "real-world". The issue of gays in the military has resonance with this small, "tip of the spear", fraternity because it's their everyday lives you're talking about, not just "what seems fair" in the salons of Georgetown, the E-ring, or the comforts of Balad.

These are not to be dismissed or derided as just Neanderthal, bible-belter considerations. They are serious factors that must enter into the debate, and should be respected. Yes, other allied militaries allow gays. None of them has the global responsibilities the U.S. military is called upon to support every day. None of them does the kind of military heavy-lifting, fighting and dying that the U.S. military shoulders around the world. Their example isn't necessarily applicable for the U.S. These are forces that in Afghanistan, for example, aren't allowed to go into combat, aren't allowed to leave their bases, and are hobbled by politically-inspired ROE.

American forces, though, have to fight and win, unlike other armies around the world. That always should be the first consideration. If you want to do what's "fair and equal", do it in some other segment of society than the military.

All that said, in the early 1990s uniformed military I spoke to were adamantly opposed to the Clinton Administration's policy on this. Today, the handful of soldiers I've discussed this with seem to care less whether their brothers are gay or straight. What happened in between these two periods of time? Liberalization in education, and a new generation of young people steeped in the concept of not discriminating on the basis of gender or orientation. These young people, since this is all they've ever known, seem to genuinely not care.

If studies show there's no detrimental effect on the combat readiness and capabilities of the U.S. military with all it's unique, heavy and extensive responsibilities around the world, gays should be allowed to serve. This is, of course, as long as it can be implemented in a way that reinforces pride of place for mission above social engineering.

First, the temperature of those mostly males who fight in situations where gayness might be an issue, as opposed to offices or HQs, should be taken. Also, I'm told Israel has done extensive studies of the effect of female integration into the military.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 29, 2008 1:44 PM

The studies referred to above I meant as possibly applicable to the effects on unit cohesion of open gayness, or whatever you call it, because the same factors would be present as are there when talking about females.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 29, 2008 1:49 PM

Just a quick correction to an above post: UK forces allow gays to serve openly and have been fighting alongside US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq from the start. There are others, too -- Canadian forces are another example. Many of these countries have no restriction at all on their forces taking part in combat operations, and these forces have been operating in some of the toughest regions in Afghanistan and have taken many casualties.

Furthermore, women serve in the US military in many occupations where they, too, are out in the field, sleeping in houses with their squad or platoon. These women are serving valiantly and are integral members of their units. I can speak from first hand experience from when I led a unit in Iraq that had female soldiers attached for when we had to deal with Iraqi females.

My feeling is that homosexuals are not out to "hit on" every straight person they meet. As was said before, all they want to do is their job and to fit in with their colleagues. Furthermore, I am not sure that fewer soldiers nowadays would care so much about gays in their units. I think it is mostly the leadership that is having trouble letting go of this ban. It seems to me to be discrimination, plain and simple.

Posted by: DM Inf | July 1, 2008 12:33 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company