By Chris Boyette
For nearly 17 years, gay and lesbian soldiers of the U.S. military were expected to deny their sexuality under threat of dismissal as part of the policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
The repeal of the policy on September 20, 2011 stirred controversy, and inspired passionate arguments on both sides of the issue.
Now a year later, the first academic study of the effects of repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” has found the repeal has had “no overall negative impact on military readiness or its component dimensions, including cohesion, recruitment, retention, assaults, harassment or morale.”
The study was published Monday by the Palm Center, a research branch of the Williams Institute at University of California Los Angeles Law School, which describes itself as “dedicated to conducting rigorous, independent research on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy.”
“The report confirms what the research suggested all along,” said Professor Aaron Belkin, lead author of the study, and director of the center.
According to the report, the authors of the study were scholars on the issue of gays in the military, including scholars from the U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Naval Academy and U.S. Marine Corps War College.
Several members of the study team advised the Pentagon’s 2010 DADT working group on repeal, and one member, Col. Gary Packard, Jr., a professor at the US Air Force Academy, led the group that drafted the Defense Department’s plan for implementing repeal, the report said.
To reach their conclusions, the report said six months after the repeal, researchers requested interviews with 553 of the 1,167 retired generals and admirals who signed a 2009 statement claiming that DADT repeal would “break the All-Volunteer Force.” Only 13 responded, but according to Belkin all those that did said the same thing, “They couldn’t point to any evidence that their concerns bore out.”
Researchers interviewed activists and experts who publicly opposed repeal, as well as “watchdog groups” on both sides of the debate, thinking that these groups had a proven record of keeping a close eye on any possible issues within the ranks, or problems with individual service members, according to the report.
“Such organizations maintain large formal and informal networks of active-duty personnel and have considerable experience in ferreting out and reporting incidents of abuse and other disciplinary breakdowns,” the report said.
Researchers also analyzed media coverage of the repeal over the past year, and consulted active-duty service members, including interviews with soldiers from all branches of service, heterosexual, lesbian, gay and bisexual.
“No one is more qualified to comment on the impact of DADT repeal than active-duty service members, who live their lives and perform their duties in the context of the new policy of open service,” the report said.
One active duty participant, a chief warrant officer in the Navy told researchers that not long after the repeal she felt “an increase of sneering jokes and stupid comments” but “they faded away fairly quickly.”
An enlisted soldier at a military university told researchers that when DADT was in effect, his unit mates would use degrading, anti-gay language, “almost absent-mindedly and with little consequence,” but that after repeal, he said, “it was kind of a big deal for two weeks,” as soldiers considered what it would mean for their comrades to be openly gay.
The report says the soldier told researchers that after people wrapped their heads around the idea, their consideration changed, “the new attitude seemed to be, ‘now that I know someone who is [gay], I’m talking about a real person. I’m not just using abstract insults [but words] that actually mean something.'”
While the Obama administration has used the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell” as a talking point and gained support among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender voters, two planks in the Republican Party’s 2012 platform also appear designed to score political points.
The first says Republicans will “reject the use of the military as a platform for social experimentation,” and another says, the party will conduct an “objective and open-minded review of the current Administration’s management of military personnel policies and will correct problems with appropriate administrative, legal, or legislative action.”
“To me that is code that they want to repeal,” Belkin said, “If they take control of the White House and try to do that, then we’ll have to have a conversation about the effects of repealing don’t ask don’t tell, and I think this study will be able to inform that conversation.”