Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

The long-awaited Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was finally published by the U.S. Department of Defense today, and to the surprise of no-one who has paid attention to the media in the past few weeks, it said unequivocally that there was no significant threat to the effectiveness of the Armed Forces if gays and lesbians were allowed to serve, and that the transition would likely be very similar to integrating women and African Americans into the military, if handled properly by leadership.

Well, DUH.

The full report, including a fascinating Executive Summary, can be read in its entirety on the Department of Defense website. But I did want to highlight a few key sections of the Executive Summary that caught my attention:

Based on all we saw and heard, our assessment is that, when coupled with the prompt implementation of the recommendations we offer below, the risk of repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to overall military effectiveness is low. We conclude that, while a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will likely, in the short term, bring about some limited and isolated disruption to unit cohesion and retention, we do not believe this disruption will be widespread or long-lasting, and can be adequately addressed by the recommendations we offer below. Longer term, with a continued and sustained commitment to 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 others in history.

Point blank, this comprehensive review showed pretty clearly that the integration of openly gay men and women in the Armed Forces can be accomplished without the catastrophic fall-out that homophobic opponents of repeal would have you expect. And lest people be inclined to dismiss the results (since they support repeal) as the naive notions of a bunch of left-wing liberals, the authors emphasized just how thorough the study actually was:

The results of the Service member survey reveal a widespread attitude among a solid majority of Service members that repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will not have a negative impact on their ability to conduct their military mission. The survey was conducted by Westat, a research firm with a long track record of conducting surveys for the U.S. military. The survey was one of the largest in the history of the military. We heard from over 115,000 Service members, or 28% of those solicited. Given the large number of respondents, the margin of error for the results was less than ±1%, and the response rate was average for the U.S. military.

The results of the survey are best represented by the answers to three questions:

  1. When asked about how having a Service member in their immediate unit who said he or she is gay would affect the unit’s ability to “work together to get the job done,” 70% of Service members predicted it would have a positive, mixed, or no effect.
  2. When asked “in your career, have you ever worked in a unit with a co-worker that you believed to be homosexual,” 69% of Service members reported that they had.
  3. When asked about the actual experience of serving in a unit with a co-worker who they believed was gay or lesbian, 92% stated that the unit’s “ability to work together” was “very good,” “good,” or “neither good nor poor.”

Consistently, the survey results revealed a large group of around 50–55% of Service members who thought that repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would have mixed or no effect; another 15–20% who said repeal would have a positive effect; and about 30% who said it would have a negative effect.7 The results of the spouse survey are consistent. When spouses were asked about whether repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would affect their preference for their Service member’s future plans to stay in the military, 74% said repeal would have no effect, while only 12% said “I would want my spouse to leave earlier.”

To be sure, these survey results reveal a significant minority—around 30% overall (and 40–60% in the Marine Corps and in various combat arms specialties)—who predicted in some form and to some degree negative views or concerns about the impact of a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Any personnel policy change for which a group that size predicts negative consequences must be approached with caution. However, there are a number of other factors that still lead us to conclude that the risk of repeal to overall military effectiveness is low.

The executive summary goes on, in far too much detail for me to quote here, to compare the expensive of men and women in the Armed Forces to that of civilians in any workplace in America: there are gay and lesbian people in the workforce, and some of them choose to be open about their sexuality and private lives, whereas others do not. And for those that do choose to be open, most are as respectful and professional about their disclosures as their straight coworkers — being gay doesn’t necessarily drive all gay people to make a big public deal at work about just how gay they are. And frankly, the study bears that out pretty convincingly:

The reality is that there are gay men and lesbians already serving in today’s U.S. military, and most Service members recognize this. As stated before, 69% of the force recognizes that they have at some point served in a unit with a co-worker they believed to be gay or lesbian. Of those who have actually had this experience in their career, 92% stated that the unit’s “ability to work together” was “very good,” “good,” or “neither good nor poor,” while only 8% stated it was “poor” or “very poor.”

Anecdotally, we also heard a number of Service members tell us about a leader, co-worker, or fellow Service member they greatly liked, trusted, or admired, who they later learned was gay; and how once that person’s sexual orientation was revealed to them, it made little or no difference to the relationship. Both the survey results and our own engagement of the force convinced us that when Service members had the actual experience of serving with someone they believe to be gay, in general unit performance was not affected negatively by this added dimension.

There is also a frequent argument made that now isn’t the time to make any major changes in personnel policy, because we are at war. To me that seems like a pretty cheap excuse, because the likelihood that we will not be “at war” anytime in the foreseeable future is pretty damned slim. But the authors of the report kept a cooler head, and addressed that question rationally:

Our assessment also took account of the fact that the Nation is at war on several fronts, and, for a period of over nine years, the U.S. military has been fully engaged, and has faced the stress and demands of frequent and lengthy deployments. We conclude that repeal can be implemented now, provided it is done in manner that minimizes the burden on leaders in deployed areas. Our recommended implementation plan does just that, and it is discussed more fully in section XIII of this report and in the accompanying support plan for implementation. The primary concern is for the added requirement that will be created by the training and education associated with repeal. We are cognizant of this concern, but note that during this time of war, the Services have undertaken education and training in deployed areas on a number of important personnel matters. These education and training initiatives have included increased emphasis on sexual assault prevention and response, suicide prevention, and training to detect indications of behavioral health problems. The conduct of these programs in deployed areas indicates that training and education associated with a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell can be accommodated. We assess this to be the case, in large part because our recommendations in this report involve a minimalist approach to changes in policies, and education and training to reiterate existing policies in a sexual orientation-neutral manner.

It is also the case that the results of the survey indicate that, in this war-time environment, a solid majority of Service members believe that repeal will have positive, mixed, or no effect. Most of those surveyed joined our military after September 11, 2001, and have known nothing but a military at war.

The study goes on to analyze the comparisons with integrating women and people of color into the U.S. military over the last several decades, and the experiences of our allied military forces’ integration of gays and lesbians in their armed forces. Beyond that, though, there’s a recent and relevant domestic comparison:

Likewise, the experience of various municipal and federal agencies is somewhat relevant. These agencies include the CIA, FBI, USAID, and the State Department, who at present have personnel who live and work alongside U.S. military personnel in deployed areas. Reportedly, in those agencies the integration of gay and lesbian personnel did not negatively affect institutional or individual job performance.

And the last argument that homophobes invariably turn to: that God says it’s wrong, and the government shouldn’t impose upon their religious beliefs. Which is utter bullshit, frankly, because the inverse is that they are imposing their religious beliefs on people who don’t think God has anything against gays and lesbians. But again, the authors approached it more rationally:

Included, also, should be a message to those who are opposed to “open” service on well-founded moral or religious grounds, that their views and beliefs are not rejected, and that leaders have not turned their backs on them. In the event of repeal, we cannot and should not expect individual Service members to change their personal religious or moral beliefs about homosexuality, but we do expect every Service member to treat all others with dignity and respect, consistent with the core values that already exist in each Service. These are not new concepts for the U.S. military, given the wide variety of views, races, and religions that already exist within the force.

There’s a whole lot more… But ultimately, I think the closing paragraphs of the Executive Summary put a nice bow around this report:

Further, as co-chairs, we believe we are both personally required to report our honest and candid assessments to the Secretary—either as the solemn duty of a military officer to his civilian leadership, or because of the fiduciary obligation a lawyer owes his client. Thus, if our assessment was that the risk to military effectiveness of implementing repeal was unacceptable, we both would have been obligated to report that to the Secretary.

We are both convinced that our military can do this, even during this time of war. We do not underestimate the challenges in implementing a change in the law, but neither should we underestimate the ability of our extraordinarily dedicated Service men and women to adapt to such change and continue to provide our Nation with the military capability to accomplish any mission.

Well said, gentlemen. Well said.

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