Why Can’t The Military Seem To Get The Tone Of The DADT Surveys Right?

Servicemembers United has now released a 5 page reaction memo to the Pentagon’s survey of military spouses about repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. This survey is now the second document to come under fire from LGB groups for making “insulting and derogatory assumptions and insinuations about gays and lesbians.” Below are the group’s chief concerns:

– Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ introductory letter states that by responding to the survey, spouses “will help us assess the impact of a change in” DADT. SU argues that this kind of statement “sets the stage for the survey taker by immediately suggesting that there will be an impact, presumably negative, on ‘family readiness’ and recruiting and retention from a change in this law and policy.”

– Use of the term “homosexual.” SU argues that “the unnecessary use of this clinical term can introduce bias into a survey. This is a well known phenomenon, and it is the reason that those opposed to gay equality almost always opt for the term in their rhetoric.”

– Asking spouses about how they’d like to be informed about the policy changes: “The answer choices for this question also unnecessarily hype up the potential impact of repeal. The choices pro-actively suggest and legitimize the possible need to flyer military communities, set up special websites, create special information sessions and courses, and provide counseling and spiritual support in response to this policy change. Such suggestions are ridiculous and offensive. ”

– SU argues that the question about how a spouse would react “If a gay or lesbian Service member lived in your neighborhood with their partner” does not belong in the survey, since “repeal does not create federal recognition of same-sex marriages – a requirement for qualification for on-base family housing.” “Troops with partners, girlfriends, or boyfriends, even if long-term, are not given on-base housing. This question is both misleading of the survey taker, in that it suggests that repeal would permit gay and lesbian couples to live in on-base housing, and wholly unnecessary in a survey on the impact of repeal, because this scenario would not be a result of repeal.”

Read the entire memo here, and you’ll see how the Pentagon could have done a better job of developing some of these questions. Part of the problem could be that the people who write these surveys have internalized a lot of society’s assumptions and biases about gay people and have inadvertently inserted them into the questionnaire. Only when they’re identified by a group that’s attune to them, do they shine like white under a black light.

The other possibility is that the military feels like it has to ask these questions in this way to minimize disruption once the policy is repealed and so it doesn’t think it’s necessary to consult with LGBT groups before mailing the document. Or, perhaps even more cynically, the Pentagon is feeling pressure to appear less friendly or considerate towards gay servicemembers and so it either consciously or carelessly drafted questions that would piss off groups on the left while appeasing those on the right. What do you think?