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Study: Gays serving openly has no effect on military

Wednesday - 9/12/2012, 8:32am  ET

Gay students at America's military service academies wrapped up the first year when they no longer had to hide their sexual orientation this past May , benefiting from the end of the ''don't ask, don't tell'' policy that used to bar them from seemingly ordinary activities like taking their partners openly to graduation events. (AP)

Paul D. Shinkman,
Tw: @ShinkmanWTOP

WASHINGTON - The repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy coincides with a shift in the way warriors view gays, shown in both the results of a new study and in the way that study was conducted.

"One Year Out: An Assessment of DADT Repeal's Impact on Military Readiness" says it is the first thorough analysis of the armed forces' reaction to allowing gays, lesbians and bisexuals to reveal their sexuality without punishment. Repealing the policy has had no adverse effect on the military, the study shows.

Of the nine authors of the UCLA's Palm Center study, five are professors from military colleges and academies.

"It really is a new day in America," study author professor Aaron Belkin with the Palm Center wrote in a Monday blog post at He went on to describe how the subject of gay service members was "toxic" when he first began researching DADT more than a decade ago and that many were reluctant to discuss it.

Belkin is surprised that a majority of the co-authors of the study are on the Department of Defense payroll, he writes. Among the authors is a professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, a professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, two from the U.S. Air Force Academy and one from the U.S. Marine Corps War College.

One expert in intelligence and security says this derives from an overarching shift in Western society.

"Historically, all militaries have operated on a uniformity of thought," says MJ Gohel, director and CEO of the London-based Asia-Pacific Foundation and WTOP contributor. "Diversity is much more easily accepted and not perceived as a threat in the way it sometimes used to be."

Intolerance permeated soldiers' personal lives well before the current gay rights debate, Gohel says. For example, he says junior officers have historically had to seek permission from commanding officers on the suitability of marrying a particular spouse of the opposite sex.

These quotations are on the opening page of the study:

"Repeal… would undermine recruiting and retention, impact leadership at all levels, have adverse effects on the willingness of parents who lend their sons and daughters to military service, and eventually break the All-Volunteer Force."

— March 2009 statement signed by 1,167 retired admirals and generals

"The flag and general officers for the military, 1,167 to date, 51 of them former four-stars, said that this law, if repealed, could indeed break the All- Volunteer Force. They chose that word very carefully. They have a lot of military experience ... and they know what they're talking about."

— Elaine Donnelly, Center for Military Readiness, May 2010

"Changes in society eventually percolate through to all spheres including the armed forces," Gohel says. "After all, the armed forces represent and reflect the society in which they live."

The Defense Department agrees there have been few problems implementing the new policy.

"By all accounts, implementation is proceeding smoothly across the department," spokeswoman Eileen Lainez tells WTOP in an email. "We attribute this success to our comprehensive pre-repeal training programs, continued close monitoring and enforcement of standards by our military leaders, and service members' adherence to core values that include discipline and respect."

Almost three quarters of 545 troops who had fought in Iraq and Afghanistan were comfortable interacting with gays, according to a 2006 Zogby poll mentioned in the UCLA study.

"People in our generation, when it comes down to the troop level, really don't think it is that big of a deal," one service academy cadet told the researchers.

It is unclear whether these results have altered the opinions of those who most vocally opposed the repeal. The offices of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, did not respond in time to a request for comment for this story.

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., senior member of the House Committee on Armed Services, declined to comment.

The philosophy of tolerance also may have accounted for the general atmosphere of professionalism following the repeal, in which most gay service members chose not to celebrate openly, the study says.

The study will be released publicly on Sept. 20, 2012, the one-year anniversary of the repeal. It says there has been "no overall negative impact on military readiness or its component dimensions, including cohesion, retention, assaults, harassment or morale." The introductory findings go on to say that repealing DADT has not visibly affected the rates of recruitment and retention, violent or physical abuse among the ranks or morale - the chief arguments of those who opposed the repeal legislation.

Just over 72 percent of all LGB troops say they have been "treated well" by colleagues following the repeal, the study says, and the new policy allows them to resolve problems with methods that were unavailable before.

A U.S. Navy cryptologic technician recounts how he was able to confront a "loudmouth" fellow sailor on his anti-gay banter. He told the study's researchers, "I walked into the auditorium and he was looking through the pamphlet and he made a joke about the DADT policy and he didn't know I was gay so he thought it was okay to make that joke and I snapped at him. I called his name out, and said, 'shut up' and he just sunk down in his chair. I don't think he was meaning to be homophobic, just trying to be funny."

Repealing DADT also provides senior officers and enlisted troops with more tools for discipline and command, the study claims. Before the repeal, commanders in some cases chose to overlook minor infractions related to homosexual behavior since a formal charge would lead to the service member's complete dismissal under DADT. Now, they can openly address these minor grievances, as well as help counsel their subordinates who may be suffering from personal issues related to a homosexual relationship.

This transfers to general "family readiness" and spiritual guidance from chaplains, the study says.

Critics of the repeal warned that those who chose to come out as gay could be subjected to verbal or violent physical harassment. The study says that has not been an issue.

"We did not uncover any evidence suggesting that DADT repeal has lead to a rise in violence among service members," the study claims, pointing to a a service academy cadet who, following the repeal, said, "It never came up...It turned out it was a non-issue."

A policy of tolerance does not mean that issues surrounding openly gay service members is solved. Eleven percent of respondents in the UCLA study mentioned "disturbing incidents" regarding orders from superiors contrary to the repeal. One commander refused to administer the oath of office to one service member due to the service member's "PDA with my partner at my promotion ceremony."

This kind of hostility is not new to the military, the study says, and has not changed significantly in total incidents since the pre-repeal era.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)