"The Importance of Objective Analysis" on Gays in the Military: A Response to Elaine Donnelly's Constructing the Co-Ed Military

Article excerpt

On February 28, 2007, former Rep. Martin Meehan (D-MA) and a bipartisan group of co-sponsors reintroduced the Military Readiness Enhancement Act in the House of Representatives to amend title 10 United States Code [section] 654 ("Policy Concerning Homosexuality in the Armed Forces") to enhance the readiness of the Armed Forces by replacing the current "don't ask, don't tell" policy with a policy of nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In the recent DUKE JOURNAL OF GENDER LAW AND POLICY article, "Constructing the Co-Ed Military," Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, asserts that "nothing has changed that would justify the turmoil that would occur in and outside of Congress if Meehan's legislation were seriously considered or passed." (2) But on what evidence is she basing her claims that turmoil would ensue if 10 U.S.C [section] 654, the ban on openly gay service members, were repealed?

The outcomes of repeal are exactly the points that an informed public conversation about the "don't ask, don't tell" policy should be engaging, but in a serious, evidence-based debate. And the focus of that debate should be not on fears of what would "occur in and outside of Congress," but on the impact of any legislation on military readiness. Signed into law in November of 1993 by President Clinton, the Defense Department issued the first set of comprehensive regulations in February of 1994. The "don't ask, don't tell" policy, once considered an interim measure by policy makers, has remained in force, relatively unchanged, for over fourteen years. (3)

Contrary to Donnelly's assertion, however, much has changed in the military, political, and cultural landscape since 1993. Military opinion and public opinion have experienced dramatic shifts, which have been well documented by scholarly research and in the media. The most recent evidence of these shifts, and perhaps the most telling, was a statement released by a group of twenty-eight retired U.S. generals and admirals urging Congress to repeal the current ban on openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual troops. (4) The support of such a large number of senior military officers for an end to the so-called gay ban reflects nothing less than a sea change in military opinion on the issue. In 1993, when the current policy was formulated, some surveys found that 97 percent of generals and admirals opposed lifting the ban. (5) When General John Shalikashvili, who served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1993 through 1997, published an op-ed in The New York Times on January 2, 2007 calling for the end of "don't ask, don't tell," he cited polls showing that a large number of younger enlisted personnel also favor letting openly gay soldiers serve. (6) That poll of 545 troops who served in Afghanistan and Iraq by Zogby International, found that 72 percent of service members are personally comfortable interacting with gays and lesbians. (7) Public opinion polls show similarly strong indicators of change. Furthermore, data indicate that the policy is now harming the military's reputation because it is out of step with public opinion. (8)

Donnelly contests all of this evidence. She says that the research supporting the claim that discrimination undermines the military, and that integration would enhance military effectiveness, is not compelling. And she suggests that, "A closer look at materials produced by the activist groups usually reveals questionable methodology and unsupported conclusions." (9) The Palm Center, a research institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara, stands at the core of her offensive against full integration of openly gay and lesbian service members. She repeatedly attempts to dismiss the credibility of the Palm Center's research by labeling our data the product of "social engineers" and "activists." (10)

In the following pages, we respond to the substance of Donnelly's critique, addressing the factual errors in her analysis, addressing her unsupported assertions about the quality and integrity of research in this area, in particular by the Palm Center, and commenting on the stakes raised by the rhetoric Donnelly chooses to deploy in presenting her position in lieu of evidence to support that position. …