50 Years Of Pentagon Studies Support Gay Soldiers

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In a new paper on the efficacy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" published in this month's Joint Force Quarterly, Col. Om Prakash boils down half a century of Pentagon-commissioned studies on gays in the military into seven short pages. Reviewing the research, he finds that the facts of gay servicemembers' fitness to serve have changed little over 50 years. But the reports themselves reveal something more: The Defense Department's own criticisms of military policies toward gay soldiers have remained consistent, too.

The DoD has funded studies on the impact of gay servicemembers as far back as 1957, when the Navy's Crittenden Report found "no factual data" to support the idea that they posed a greater security risk than heterosexual personnel. Straight officers boasting secrets due to "feelings of inadequacy" were a realer threat, it found. Despite these findings, the report recommended no changes to dismissal policies, for a reason that would define the department's stance on open service into the 21st century: "The service should not move ahead of civilian society nor attempt to set substantially different standards in attitude or action with respect to homosexual offenders."

In 1988, the Defense Personnel Security Research Center -- a DoD agency -- conducted its own study on gay soldiers to determine whether their service under current policies created security risks, for instance in terms of blackmail. It also discussed, based on the military and wider social data available, whether the military's policies were sustainable. The study returned again and again to the facts of conduct: "Studies of homosexual veterans make clear that having a same gender or an opposite-gender orientation is unrelated to job performance in the same way as is being left or right-handed."

The study also owned the lessons of racial integration: "The intensity of prejudice against homosexuals may be of the same order as the prejudice against blacks in 1948, when the military was ordered to integrate," it found. "The order to integrate blacks was first met with stout resistance by traditionalists in the military establishment. Dire consequences were predicted for maintaining discipline, building group morale, and achieving military organizational goals. None of these predictions of doom has come true."

The Pentagon rejected a draft of the report and its follow-up, claiming it exceeded its mandate. Excerpts from the unpublished studies were released in a 1992 General Accounting Office (now the Government Accountability Office) 10-year report on the Pentagon's policies toward gay servicemembers as Congress debated the guidelines that would become DADT.

The GAO report itself turned a harsh light on the DoD. It found that existing policy was "based solely upon concerns about homosexuality itself," and criticized the department for not conducting hard research to support its practices. "In addition," the report said, "professional psychiatric, psychological, sociological associations and other experts familiar with the research conducted on homosexuality in general disagree with the basic rationale behind DoD's policy."

The latest data Prakash cites comes from a 1993 RAND Corp. study commissioned under President Clinton to determine a "practical" strategy on gays in the military. It pulled together the broadest range of data, including opinion of active-duty officers and attitudes of foreign militaries with openly gay servicemembers. Its straightforward conclusion supported the previous 40 years of findings: Policy should set equal expectations of conduct for all servicemembers, and "emphasis should be placed on behavior ... not on teaching tolerance or sensitivity."

Civilian criticism of DADT has been largely couched in the language of gay rights as civil rights, but change in the military moves top-down. As Prakash's paper makes clear, the data are well-known; what remains is an ideological shift among military leadership.

That's something Kevin Nix, a spokesman for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which provides legal support and advocacy to gay soldiers, says may be a matter of time. "The military doesn't exist in a vacuum from the rest of American culture," he says. "There is a generational divide. The newest generation and the next generation of military leadership are much more open and tolerant ... and that is helping the top-down process."

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Shauna Miller is senior associate editor at CityLab. 

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