On Friday, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell pushed back against critics of the recently released DADT survey, and dug the Defense Department in an even bigger hole in the process. Last week, several prominent gay groups criticized the survey for asking the troops to speculate on the sexual orientation of other service members and took umbrage at the implication that gays would pose a problem within the military.
Morrell admitted that the Pentagon outsourced the survey to a private firm without consulting with LGBT groups and suggested that segregating gay and straight troops would not be out of the question once Congress repeals the policy:
Morrell also insisted that the questions with which most critics took the most umbrage — i.e., those related to lifestyle issues like socializing outside of work as well as showering and sharing barracks with openly gay and lesbian colleagues (as though that does not currently occur) — were developed as part of a process within the department and the working group to address the “privacy” issues of concern to heterosexual members of the military. Morrell said, “We think it would be irresponsible to conduct a survey that did not address these questions,” but insisted they were asked to help the military determine what adjustments might be necessary “when DADT is repealed.”
In response to questions from reporters, Morrell clarified that the survey responses could lead the military to conclude that it would “perhaps need adjustments to facilities themselves,” indicating that it is not outside the realm of possibility that, in order to preserve the privacy and modesty of heterosexual service members in group showers and barracks, the military would consider segregating gay and lesbian service members in some way.
When quizzed about the development of the survey questions, Morrell admitted that they didn’t consult with advocacy groups about the design of the survey, leaving that to the professionals at Westat, the private contractor who developed the questions in consultation with the Pentagon and working group.
Several points here. First, it’s unclear that asking soldiers to speculate about the homosexuality of their colleagues and report anecdotal accounts of perceived or actual discomfort with gay troops will inform the military about how best to implement repeal. These questions may reveal how troops perceive their fellow soldiers or the accuracy of their gaydar, but it will say almost nothing about which regulations need to be changed in order to guarantee an orderly transition. If anything, Morrell’s suggestion that facilities may be adjusted to accommodate insecure straight soldiers would only undermine that goal and suggest that military members need only to register their distaste for gays loudly enough to relegate them to separate but equal treatment.
The troops are already forced to live in a whole host of disagreeable conditions and train, sleep, and eat with men and women of all races, religions, and values without detriment to unit cohesion or military effectiveness. That’s because segregating the troops would actually hurt the forces. As General Carl Mundy, commandant of the Marine Corps from 1991 to 1995 and an opponent of a repeal has predicted, segregating the forces “would be absolutely disastrous in the armed forces. …It would destroy any sense of cohesion or teamwork or good order and discipline.” Indeed, none of the 25 nations that have allowed open service provide separate housing, shower, or other common-use facilities for gay and lesbian service members. But the U.S. military seems open to putting them up to a vote and in the process is greatly mishandling a policy change that this administration and an overwhelming majority of Americans — and by some accounts service members — support.