Monday, June 13, 2011

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: What The Evidence Really Shows

This is a paper I had to do for my Military Psychology course at saint Leo University. We got to choose the topic so long as it pertained to the the Military. I chose gays in the military, specifically the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy. It was not an opinion piece, it was a research paper. For those unfamiliar with the random popping up of years, page numbers, and names, it is the APA style we are required to use. I miss footnotes.

Unit cohesion is a very vital part of military survival. Without a strong connection between the troops the unit can break down which leads to a variety of issues including isolation, depression, and lack of trust. (Kavanagh 1995) Being a gay man or woman in the United States is currently grounds for dismissal from the armed services. The Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy is supposed to allow for gay service members to serve in the military so long as they do not reveal their status as being a homosexual or as a bisexual. Under current guidelines many military members serve with nonheterosexuals and do not know that they are. Therefore “perceptions of unit cohesion for heterosexual members who have and have not served with LBGT (lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender) service members cannot be compared.” (Moradi, 2009, pg. 514) Without this actual comparison other research methods must be examined in order to fully understand the implications of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Prior to the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy there was a much stricter policy in place. Given the key assumption that homosexuality was not a compatible lifestyle for members of the military, there was not a real distinction between homosexual acts and homosexual declaration. (Kavanagh 1995). Potential military recruits were asked if they were homosexual or bisexual. Elimination was imminent if someone were to declare themselves as anything other than heterosexual.
Many industrialized countries allow gay, lesbian, and bisexual people to openly serve in their military branches. The United States of America is one of the Western civilized militaries still holding out. One of America’s greatest allies, Britain, actively seeks out LBGT members for its Royal Navy. Of the twenty four foreign militaries (some of which are Britain, Israel, Canada and Australia) that have openly gay members serving, none of them have reported any breakdown in the cohesion of their units. (Buhrke 2006) The United States Department of Defense “has not produced supporting data and instead has repeatedly cited its own professional judgment which is inheritably subjective in nature.” (Moradi , 2009, pg. 541)
There have been exceptions made where the United States Armed Forces have allowed for openly gay and lesbian members to serve in the military without repercussions. “As the war effort increasingly necessitated the use of all available personnel… many homosexual men and women were allowed to enlist and serve.” (Moradi, 2009, pg. 539) During this World War II effort the gay men and lesbian women served openly and their orientation was known to their heterosexual counterparts. There is extensive evidence that they “served effectively in combat with the respect and admiration of those comrades.” (Moradi, 2009, pg. 542)
             With the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in place there became a distinction between homosexual acts and homosexual identity. Depending on the incident there could be an outcome of reprimand, or an outcome of discharge. If a person is found to have had homosexual activity but shows no intent of a repeated pattern they may be allowed to stay in the service. “e.g., motivated by youthful curiosity or performed under curiosity”. (Moradi, 2009, pg. 540)  However, if a service member declares themselves to be homosexual or bisexual, they will be dismissed even if there is no proof of an actual homosexual act. It is all about the “propensity” towards the physical acts. (Kavanagh, 1995)
            It is the belief that homosexuals are unable to control their urges that lead to the distinction between nonheterosexual acts and nonheterosexual declarations. Gay and lesbian people are historically thought to be unable to stop the sexual urges for members of the same gender. It is believed they are predatory and consistently looking for another chance for sex. There are also beliefs that nonheterosexuals will force themselves on heterosexuals in order to convert them. The stereotype also exists that homosexual men and women are more likely to molest children. The empirical data does not support any of these beliefs. In fact, “adult male sexual assault and rape appear to be perpetrated primarily by heterosexual men.” (Herek, 1993, pg.  542).
            One of the arguments against gays in the military is the privacy factor regarding the close quarters. Often times military members will have to share sleeping quarters or showers. Some believe the gay members will use this time to gawk at straight members in order to satiate their primal desires. Quite the opposite could be true. With fear of retaliation it is likely that gay and lesbian members would avert their eyes even more than their heterosexual counterparts in order to avoid any false accusations. (Herek, 1993)  Many heterosexual people do not like being nakedly exposed to members of the opposite gender, there is no real reason to assume the same is not true for nonheterosexual members in regard to their same gender. “It should be recalled that gay men and lesbians currently serve covertly in the military. Hence, they are already present in the barracks and showers.” (Herek, 1993, pg. 543)
                        Another argument against openly gay and lesbian members serving is their need to flaunt their sexual preferences. Some heterosexuals could perceive a gay or lesbian or bisexual person as displaying their sexual orientation to the world over something that a heterosexual person would take for granted, such as displaying a photo of their significant other on their desk. In a heterosexual privileged world this would never be seen as flaunting ones heterosexuality, it is merely a display of the norm. (Herek, 1993). Hand holding, a sweet kiss on the cheek, and other displays of affection can be perceived as a flaunting from a gay or lesbian person whereas it is common place and acceptable from a heterosexual person.
                        Forcing gay men and lesbian women in the United States military to conceal their status can have the opposite results that many people expect. In fact, unit cohesion could be better served by allowing members to be openly gay or lesbian. Keeping the nonheterosexual status a secret can “promote social isolation, and through social isolation, reduce work commitment and performance.” (Moradi, 2009, pg. 515) it is important to note that the presence of openly gay and lesbian members will likely impact “social rather than task cohesion.” (Moradi, 2009, pg. 527)
             At this time there is no empirical data that combat is affected or unit cohesion is diminished by the nonheterosexual status of a military member. (Buhrke, 2006) For some heterosexual members it might be a new experience to serve with gay or lesbian or bisexual members, but this is no different than their other exposures to new cultures that comes with serving in the United States military. (Moradi, 2009) Once upon a time black people were only allowed in the military on an emergency basis and women were not allowed at all. Eventually they were allowed to serve with equal status. (Moradi, 2009)
The double standard exists regarding behavior of heterosexual members and LGBT members. According to Herek (1993) it is common for sexual harassment by a heterosexual male towards a female is seen as unacceptable behavior. A lesbian female, who sexually harasses another female, whether heterosexual or homosexual or bisexual, would be regarded as an unacceptable person. It is suggested that the lesbian offender be discharged, whereas the heterosexual male would be reprimanded.
            Coming to terms with sexual orientation can be difficult enough in the civilian world and adjustments to the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, and Transgender lifestyle may be even more difficult in the United States military. Some gay men and lesbian women will reach out for help when dealing with their feelings. However, it should be noted that the Department of Defense “grants commanding officers broad access to client records.” (Buhrke, 2006, pg. 96)
            There is a law in place in the civilian world that protects gay men and lesbian women from being discriminated against based on their sexual orientation. The United States military is able to have policies independent of the rest of the United States.  “Public opinion continues to be steadily but slowly moving toward support for same-sex marriage and civil unions. … When one looks at issues other than marriage (e.g., inheritance rights, health insurance, hospital visitation rights) a majority (sometimes sizable) of the American public already favors equal treatment.” (Brewer, Wilcox, 2008, pg. 313) In time the data to support openly serving LBGT members will have to come to light and allow for the passing of a non discriminating military.


Brewer, P. A., Wilcox, A. R. (2008) Value War: Public Opinion and the Politics of Gay Rights
            Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group. 169 pp
Buhrke, R.A., Johnson, W.B. (2006) Service Delivery in a “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” World: Ethical Care of Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Military Personnel
            Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, vol 37, no. 1 91-98
Herek, G.M. (1993) Sexual Orientation and Military Service: A Social Science Persepective
            American Psychological Association Vol 48, no. 5 538-549
Kavanagh, K. (1995) Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: Deception Required, Disclosure Denied
            Psychology Public Policy and Law, vol 1, no 1, 142 - 160
Moradi, B. (2009) Sexual Orientation Disclosure, Concealment, Harassment, and Military Cohesion: Perceptions of LGBT Military Veterans
            Military Psychology, 21: 513-533

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