The U.S. House of Representatives took a big step toward granting gay and lesbian Americans the right to serve openly in the military as they voted to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – a policy implemented 17 years ago that officially required gays and lesbians to lie about their lives if they wanted to serve.
The measure isn’t perfect. It must be passed by the Senate and signed by the president. It doesn’t repeal the ban immediately, but kicks the can down the road until after the military finishes its own review at the end of the year. Then, to be implemented, the repeal must gain final approval by the president, the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The compromise may be the best we can expect given the climate of the Congress and Obama’s penchant for cutting unappealing deals. This deal leaves the final control of a minority’s status to yet another
minority — meaning, in the end, the repeal could still be rejected, even though a whopping 78 percent of Americans say the policy should go. Gays and lesbians are resigned to it, though, used to their lives being political footballs.
The real victory though is that passage comes after last minute — and increasingly hysterical — complaints by the religious right.
One group, America’s Survival, Inc., complained that openly gay soldiers would “result in the spreading of deadly HIV-tainted blood throughout the ranks,” even while the report acknowledged that all soldiers are tested for HIV before they are allowed to enlist. They also claimed that “Corporal Klinger could become a reality in the Armed Forces,” as transgender soldiers in dresses invade the ranks.
The Family Research Council, earlier this week, released a paper purporting to show that gays and lesbians are disproportionately responsible for sexual assaults in the military.
A review of the “case synopses” of all 1,643 reports of sexual assault reported by the four branches of the military for Fiscal Year 2009 (October 1, 2008 through September 30, 2009) found that over eight percent (8.2%) of all military sexual assault cases were homosexual in nature. Yet homosexual activist groups themselves have admitted that less than three percent of Americans (2.8% of men and 1.4% of women) are homosexual or bisexual.
“Taken together, these figures suggest that homosexuals in the military are about three times more likely to commit sexual assaults than heterosexuals are,” noted (Senior Fellow for Policy Studies Peter) Sprigg. “Concerns about privacy when homosexuals share facilities like showers and sleeping quarters with heterosexuals are well grounded,” he added.
Both their numbers and their claims about privacy and shared facilities are unfounded, especially when the facts are actually consulted. Way back in 2001, Deb Price, a columnist for the Detroit News, wrote about a study of what happened when other militaries around the world integrated gay and lesbian soldiers. The result — no increases in assaults, no need for separate shower or sleeping quarters, and generally, a great big yawn:
“We find literally the same thing again and again, which is people report the lifting of a gay ban as a non-event,” says political scientist Aaron Belkin, director of the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
“It has no effect on unit cohesion. It has no effect on military performance. It has no effect on recruitment. It has no effect on any of the indicators of military capability,” adds Belkin, whose center has thoroughly studied the impact of having lifted the gay bans in Britain, Israel, Canada and Australia.
Perhaps the most striking thing that Belkin and his group found was that in Canada, sexual harassment of service women fell 46 percent when the gay ban disappeared. Would-be harassers realized women were now “free to report assaults without fear that they would be accused of and subsequently discharged for being a lesbian.”
In the U.S. military, the Department of Veterans Affairs reported in 2000 that “55 percent of women experienced sexual harassment in the military. And a 2005 study estimates that more than half of women in the reserves and National Guard suffered sexual assault or harassment during their service.” From the numbers, it would seem that the majority of harassers in the military are straight men.
Could this be the real fear of the religious right, that the inclusion of gay and lesbian soldiers will mean that men in the military will no longer be free to sexually harass the women around them with impunity?