The Palm Center has released one of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell surveys distributed to some 400,000 servicemembers to gauge their reaction to repealing the policy. Yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has described the questionnaires as “very important” to moving forward with repeal and promised that the results would “help us prepare better to implement those changes when and if the law is changed.”
At the outset, the survey sounded benign enough. But looking at the actual questions, I don’t see how asking the troops to speculate about the orientation of their fellow members would help the military “prepare” to repeal the policy effectively. Rather, the tone of questions — some of which are reproduced below — suggest the military is operating under two very troubling assumption: 1) open homosexuality would affect military performance and 2) gay people themselves are problematic or offend straight people.
The questions are not only hetero-centric (in that they assume that the servicemember is straight) but they also leave the impression that the military is on some sort of witch hunt.
- Do you currently serve with a male or female Service member you believe to be homosexual?
- In the unit where you had a leader you believed to be gay or lesbian, about how many other unit members also believed the
leader to be gay or lesbian?…How would you rate that unit’s … a. Ability to work together? … b. Morale?…c. Performance?
- If Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed and you are working with a Service member in your immediate unit who has said he or
she is gay or lesbian, how, if at all, would it affect your immediate unit’s effectiveness at completing its mission. . .
- If Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed, how, if at all, will it affect your willingness to recommend to a family member or close friend that he or she join the military?
- Have you shared a room, berth or field tent with a Service member you believed to be homosexual?
- Have you been assigned to share bath facilities with an open bay shower that is also used by a Service member you
believed to be homosexual?
- If Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed and a gay or lesbian Service member attended a military social function with a same-sex partner, which are you most likely to do?
Gates has encouraged gays and lesbians to participate in the survey, but the tone of the questions will likely turn many closeted servicemembers away, potentially slanting and skewing the results. To be sure, there is no better way to ask these questions. In all of the choices, the servicemember has the option of selecting “no effect,” and have space to express very positive opinions of gay members. But the very fact that the military has decided to poll this issue and the Secretary has put some much weight in their answers, gives soldiers the impression that their fellow gay members pose a problem and that they can still preserve the DADT policy. After all, what’s stopping some homophobic troops from gaming the survey and reporting all kinds of horrible experiences — and all under the cloak of anonymity?
Had the troops taken surveys about integrating African Americans or opening up combat opportunities for women and military leaders paid attention to them, those things would never have happened and reading these questions, one gets the impression that the military is pulling out all the stops to keep the policy in place.