Report: 'Don't Ask' Policy = Harassment
The U.S. military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy of discharging gay and lesbian servicemembers who reveal their sexual orientation violates human rights and deprives the military of skilled personnel, Human Rights Watch said in a new report.
Under 'don't ask, don't tell,' any servicemember who acknowledges his or her homosexuality by word or deed is discharged. Between 1994 and the end of 2001, more than 7,800 servicemembers were forced out of the military because of the policy.
'America prides itself on being a nation of liberty and tolerance,' said Jamie Fellner, director of the U.S. Program of Human Rights Watch. 'Yet it permits its military to remain a bastion of discrimination against gays and lesbians.'
In a letter sent to President Bush with the report, 'Uniform Discrimination: The 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Policy of the U.S. Military,' Human Rights Watch asked him to seek an end to discharges on the basis of sexual orientation and to work with Congress to repeal the 1993 law codifying the policy.
Supporters of 'don't ask, don't tell' argue that permitting acknowledged gays or lesbians to serve in the military would impair unit cohesiveness and hence military effectiveness. As detailed in the report, there is no evidence to support that argument. Most members of NATO and many U.S. allies participating in Operation Enduring Freedom permit open homosexuals to serve under the same rules as heterosexuals. Indeed, over the last decade, a number of U.S. allies, including the UK, Germany, Canada and Israel, have changed exclusionary policies without impairing military effectiveness.
According to the HRW report:
— Between October 2001 and September 2002, the Army discharged ten trained linguists—seven of them proficient in Arabic—because they are gay.
— In 2001, a record 1,256 servicemembers were discharged because of their sexual orientation—almost double the number discharged in 1992.
— The policy has cost the military an estimated $218 million to recruit and train replacements.
As detailed in 'Uniform Discrimination,' anti-gay harassment remains commonplace, with gay servicemembers subjected to name-calling, threats and even physical attacks. In a Department of Defense survey of service members, 80 percent reported hearing offensive speech, derogatory names, jokes or negative remarks about gays and lesbians in the past year and 85 percent believed that military officials tolerated such behavior. In 1999, homophobia led to the murder of Army Private First Class Barry Winchell by a soldier who beat him to death with a baseball bat.
The report also documents 'lesbian-baiting,' a form of harassment in which male servicemembers label as lesbians women who rebuff their sexual advances or who do not act 'feminine' enough.