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Monday, October 26, 2009

Anti-gay Policy Harshest on U.S. Service Women

By Candace Talmadge

The U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy (DADT) toward homosexual members of the armed forces is more accurately described as “snitch and ditch.”

Under this odious law, passed by Congress in 1993, the military command is not to look into or inquire about (“don’t ask”) the sexual orientation of potential recruits or active service members without evidence of disallowed behavior.

Recruits and service members, for their part, may not engage in homosexual conduct or openly talk (“don’t tell”) about their sexual orientation or same-sex relationships while serving in the military.

The wording of the DADT statute attempted to remove the president’s authority over military separations.

A different law passed a decade earlier, however, granted presidents the authority to suspend all laws, including the subsequent DADT, relating to military promotion, retirement, and separation, according to Nathaniel Frank, senior fellow at The Palm Center. The center is a think tank at the University of California-Santa Barbara that specializes in research on gender, sexuality and the military.

In other words, President Barack Obama is dodging the issue when he maintains that Congress must act first to overturn DADT.

DADT was supposed to outlaw harassment of gays in the military. It hasn’t. The mere suspicion of homosexual orientation usually sets off a career-ending investigation (”snitch and ditch”). DADT also falls most heavily on enlisted women, according to The Palm Center’s research.

Since 1993, females have received 61 percent of total Air Force DADT-related discharges, even though they represent just 20 percent of that service branch; women received 36 percent of DADT-related discharges in the Army, where they are 14 percent of personnel; 23 percent of such discharges in the Navy, where they comprise 14 percent; and 18 percent of DADT-related discharges in the Marines, where they are just 6 percent.

There are two possible explanations for these disproportionate discharges, Frank says. The first is that a higher percentage of women enlisting are gay. The other explanation, and the one he thinks is more likely, is the “macho” culture that is pervasive and enduring throughout all branches of the armed forces and that leads to sexual harassment. A male colleague or officer makes advances toward a woman, and if she does not respond, accuses her of being a lesbian, setting off an investigation into her sexual orientation.

“The military regards women and gays as a threat to a fragile male identity,” adds Frank, author of Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America. “Women are at much greater risk of being outed by an angry male” than men. The practice is known as lesbian baiting.

One former service member profoundly affected by this poisonous policy is Lt. Col. Edith Disler, who used to be an instructor at the United States Air Force Academy. As Congress and the military’s top brass discuss ending the ban on gays, Disler invited a group of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender academy graduates into her class for a talk with students. Disler told The Palm Center that she received approval to do so from her course director and that no written policy requiring approval from a higher level existed.

The week after the visit, Disler was removed from the classroom after a 25-year career, investigated for having possibly violated policies, procedures, or “classroom decorum,” and reprimanded with a letter of counseling inserted into her record. She has since retired from the military.

“What happened to Edie is a disgrace,” says Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, an Air Force Academy graduate who knows Disler and is the president and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. “They turned her into a sacrificial whipping boy.” He praised Disler as an outstanding career officer and the embodiment of the sacrifice and commitment to country required of members of the armed forces.

“The day we finally get rid of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is the day I go out and buy some Dom Perignon,” Weinstein adds. The 75 percent of Americans who support gays serving openly in the military will raise a glass with him.


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