Thursday, March 26, 2009

DADT: Let's Look at the Polling Data

The current issue of C-VILLE Weekly carries a letter from Frederick W. Kahler of Earlysville, who identifies himself as a World War II veteran and Navy pilot.

Mr. Kahler writes:

Cathy Harding: In response to your “Read this First” in the March 17-23 issue, I pose the following, regarding your endorsement of Congressman “MORON’”s campaign to repeal DADT: What branch of the military did “MORON” serve in? What branch of the military did you serve in? Did you ever poll the military to ascertain their feelings about serving side by side with “gays”?

You talk about straining the military as if the repeal of DADT would greatly improve the morale of the “straights” serving.

I’ve got news for you: NO WAY!
Ignoring his undignified references to Representative Jim Moran (D-VA8), who does plenty to undignify himself, let's go directly to the question he poses to C-VILLE's editor about polling the military to find out their attitudes about serving with openly gay comrades.

As a matter of fact, there have already been polls done to find precisely the information that Mr. Kahler desires.

In December 2006, the respected polling organization, Zogby International, surveyed troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. One of its findings was that 73% of military personnel are comfortable with lesbians and gay men. It further found:
Of those in combat units, 21% said they know for certain that someone in their unit is gay or lesbian, slightly less than for those in combat support units (25%) and combat service support units (22%). One in five troops (20%) in other units said they know for certain someone is gay or lesbian in their unit. Overall, nearly half (45%) say there are people in their unit they suspect are gay or lesbian, but they don't know for sure. Slightly more than half (52%) say they have received training on the prevention of anti-gay harassment in the past three years. But 40% say they have not received this type of training, which is mandated by Defense Department policy.
Moreover, Zogby said:
Some troops believe the integration of openly gay and lesbian service members in the military could undermine cohesion, but those who know at least one gay peer are less likely to believe it would negatively impact morale. Of those who know a gay or lesbian peer, 27% said it has a negative impact on the morale of their unit. By contrast, among those who do not know of a gay or lesbian person in their unit, or are unsure of their presence, 58% said it would have a negative impact on their unit.

Prominent supporters of "don't ask, don't tell" have expressed concerns about privacy in the shower, Dr. Belkin said, but nearly three out of four troops said in the Zogby poll that they usually or almost always take showers privately [and] only 8% say they usually or almost always take showers in group stalls.
The Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania reported these findings in its 2004 National Annenberg Election Survey:
* 50% of junior enlisted personnel say that gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military, up from 16% in 1992
* 29% of military personnel believe open service is an issue of equal rights.
* Service members surveyed “believe sexual orientation is unrelated to job performance,” Annenberg reported.
* Only 16% of believed lesbian and gay service members were “bad for morale,” while just 12% thought allowing gays to serve openly would be “bad for teamwork.”
If these surveys of active service members are insufficient to satisfy Mr. Kahler's curiosity, perhaps the views of retired military and naval officers would pique his interest.

According to an article at PageOneQ headlined "Admirals, generals call for 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' repeal,"
A coalition of retired military generals and admirals has released a joint call to repeal 10 USC 654, better known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," in order to allow gay and lesbian members of the military to serve openly, without fear of losing one's military career. Over 12,000 people have been discharged under the policy since its inception in 1993.

Among the 104 signatories is retired Admiral Charles Larson, former Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy and a supporter of "Don't Ask" when it was signed by President Clinton. At the time, he thought that "Don't Ask" was a good step towards lifting a temporary blanket ban on gays in the military. Larson later saw how "Don't Ask" was being used for "witch hunts," depriving the military of talented individuals, and after working with gay people and speaking at length with his lesbian daughter, he now supports an end to the ban altogether.

"I think the time has come to find a way to let talented, young, patriotic Americans who want to serve their country serve," Larson said, "and let's enforce high standards of personal and human behavior for everyone."
(For the skeptical reader, that article includes a list of the names of all the signatories to the statement calling for DADT repeal. The story was also reported by the Associated Press.)

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) argues that the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy is unkind to taxpayers while it is unfair to soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines:
* The Pentagon has spent over $200 million taxpayer dollars to replace service men and women discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” since 1993, according to a 2005 GAO report.
* A 2006 Blue Ribbon Commission Report found that the total cost of implementing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” between fiscal year 1994 and fiscal year 2003 was at least $363.8 million.
Given that information, it is no wonder that the general public, in multiple surveys spread over several years, has become increasingly opposed to excluding patriotic gay Americans from serving in the armed forces.

For example, a Fox News poll in August 2003 discovered that "64% of those polled support allowing gays to serve openly." In another example, a July 2008 poll by the Washington Post and ABC News found:
• 75% of Americans think homosexuals who publicly disclose their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve in the military
• 22% of Americans think homosexuals who publicly disclose their sexual orientation should not be allowed to serve in the military
• 3% had no opinion
Some people might be surprised by these findings. That's why it's useful to do research and to check the data against preconceptions.

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