Pentagon's DADT report dissolves homophobic conservative myths

There is a long-running conservative media narrative that allowing gay men and lesbians to serve in the military openly would undermine unit cohesion, recruitment, and retention. For example, take Les Kinsolving's insistence in his recent WorldNetDaily column that repeal of DADT would prompt an uptick in early retirement so huge that it would necessitate a return to the draft, and that Baptist and Catholic chaplains would be forced from the military. Thankfully, those tired voices can rest after the release of the Pentagon report on Don't Ask Don't Tell. The report investigates their concerns and as it turns out, the sky isn't falling.

The report confirms that open service is unlikely to harm unit cohesion or readiness. In a letter released today by the Palm Center, 30 scholars contend the report echoes many other studies and leaves only one obstacle to repeal: prejudice. When asked about the effect of repeal on task cohesion, personal readiness, and unit readiness, majorities of those surveyed said they expected a “positive, mixed, or no effect.” From page 64 of the report, emphasis added:

The Service member survey asked a number of questions on Service members' views about the effect of repeal on unit cohesion, including task and social cohesion. Task cohesion is a unit's ability to work together effectively, whereas social cohesion is a unit's ability to get along and trust one another. Overall, 70-76% of Service members said repeal would have a positive, a mixed, or no effect on aspects of task cohesion. Similarly, 67-78% of Service members said repeal would have a positive, mixed, or no effect on aspects of social cohesion.

Only 12 percent of those surveyed said that repeal would have a negative effect on their personal readiness, and only 31 percent expected a negative impact on unit readiness. From page 68 of the report, emphasis added:

Service members were asked to assess their current readiness, as well as how repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell would affect their personal readiness and their unit's readiness. With regard to personal readiness, 67% of Service members said that repeal would have a positive or no effect; 22% said the effect would be equally positive as negative, and 12% said repeal would have a negative effect. In addition, 58% said repeal would have a positive or no effect on their ability to train well; 21% said the effect would be equally positive as negative; and 21% said repeal would have a negative effect. The responses about effects at the unit level, as opposed to at the personal level, were somewhat more negative. For example, with regard to their unit's ability to train well together, 31% said that repeal would have a negative impact.

Right-wing concerns about recruitment and retention are similarly overblown. From pages 68-69 of the report, emphasis added:

The Services rely on referrals--from family, friends, and current or former Service members--for about a third of new recruits. Overall, nearly one-half (47%) of Service members said that repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell would have no effect on their willingness to recommend military service to a family member or close friend; 6% said that it would have positive effect; 10% said it would have a mixed effect; and 27% said it would have a negative effect.

Overall, more than 60% of Service members told us that their career plans would not change as a result of repeal; 13% said that they would definitely leave sooner than they had otherwise planned; and 11% said they would think about leaving sooner than they had planned.

In other countries that have allowed gay men and women to serve, the repeal of bans on openly gay service did not affect recruitment or retention, despite significantly higher percentages of troops stating beforehand that they would respond negatively. In a 1985 survey of male Canadian troops, 45 percent said they would refuse to work with gays. In a 1996 survey of British troops, two-thirds said they would not willingly serve if openly gay and lesbian persons were allowed to serve. Both countries subsequently lifted their bans without suffering the severe circumstances predicted by surveys.

Lest they ignore Kinsolving's concerns for military chaplains, the report authors thought that, too. From page 12 of the report, emphasis added:

Special attention should also be given to address the concerns of our community of 3,000 military chaplains. Some of the most intense and sharpest divergence of views about Don't Ask, Don't Tell exists among the chaplain corps. A large number of military chaplains (and their followers) believe that homosexuality is a sin and an abomination, and that they are required by God to condemn it as such.

However, the reality is that in today's U.S. military, people of sharply different moral values and religious convictions--including those who believe that abortion is murder and those who do not, and those who believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and those who do not--and those who have no religious convictions at all, already co-exist, work, live, and fight together on a daily basis. The other reality is that policies regarding Service members' individual expression and free exercise of religion already exist, and we believe they are adequate. Service members will not be required to change their personal views and religious beliefs; they must, however, continue to respect and serve with others who hold different views and beliefs.

Within the chaplain community, the solution to this issue can be found in the existing guidance developed by and for our chaplains, which we believe should be reiterated as part of any education and training concerning repeal. Those regulations strike an appropriate balance between protecting a chaplain's First Amendment freedoms and a chaplain's duty to care for all. Existing regulations state that chaplains “will not be required to perform a religious worship services, command ceremonies, or other events, if doing so would be in variance with the tenets or practices of their faith.” At the same time, regulations state that “Chaplains care for all Service members, including those who claim no religious faith, facilitate the religious requirements of personnel of all faiths, provide faith-specific ministries, and advise the command.”

But perhaps the most telling numbers from the Pentagon survey are that of the 69 percent of those surveyed who report having worked with a service member believed to be gay or lesbian, only 8 percent of respondents report having experienced a resultant negative effect on the unit's “ability to work together.” From page 4 of the report, emphasis added:

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.