by Pamela Prasarttongosoth
Since the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy went into effect on February 28, 1994, the situation has not improved for gays in the military. By some accounts, the rate of discharge of servicemembers based on homosexuality has remained steady at about 0.04 percent of total military personnel. Others argue that this figure has actually risen overall since the implementation of the new policy. For example, discharges from the Air Force for homosexuality increased in the period of 1992 to 1994 from 111 to 180 dismissals. According to President Clinton's July 19, 1993, announcement of what he called the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue" policy, servicemembers were to now be judged based on their conduct, rather than their sexual orientation. Questions about sexual orientation were to be removed from written forms, such as those needed for enlistment procedures. Servicemembers were even supposed to be allowed to say that they were homosexual, if they could prove that they would not engage in prohibited conduct. Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, prohibited conduct includes sodomy, which is defined as "unnatural" sexual acts. The policy, in and of itself, is problematic in that lesbian and gay servicemembers are expected to either lie about their sexual orientation or lie about their desire to actually sleep with someone of the same sex. Under the terms of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," lesbians and gays could theoretically join the military -- as long as they took a vow of celibacy. Given the notorious sexual habits of US military personnel, it is jarringly inconsistent that the military would be so prudish about the sex lives of certain soldiers. However, this is not the way the policy has actually been carried out under the auspices of the Department of Defense. Memos drafted in June and November of 1994 by the Navy and the Air Force indicate that the military probably never intended to follow the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Officials in these memos explicitly direct commanders to disobey the policy by continuing the practices of open-ended witch-hunts of suspected homosexual soldiers, questioning the "parents, siblings, and close friends" of suspected individuals, and invasive snooping into the private lives of servicemembers. This directive has probably exacerbated the problem of homophobia in the military, by allowing commanding officers to feel smug in the knowledge that they have the approval of their superiors in intentionally flouting the new policy. Below are a few incidents that have occurred since the new policy was implemented: In Florida, a recruiter asked one recruit five times if she was homosexual, both verbally and on outdated written forms. To a sailor, a chief-of-boat demanded, "You're not going to tell me you're a fucking faggot, are you?" A security clearance investigator in Washington, DC told a servicemember, "I'm not going to ask you if you're homosexual, but if I did ask, how would you respond?" Although a Marine based in Okinawa, Japan was never formally charged with being in a homosexual ring, he was stripped of his security clearance and transferred to another base because of such accusations. To investigate the sexual orientation of an Air Force doctor, an official called his mother for information about her son. Investigators asked 25 individual soldiers in North Carolina to speculate about the sexuality of a fellow Marine. A sailor pilfered the personal desk of his roommate and turned in the private letters that he found. His roommate was subsequently discharged for being a homosexual. During private counseling sessions with a Naval psychologist, a South Carolina corporal asked questions about homosexuality and questioned his own sexual feelings. Consequently, the psychologist turned the corporal over for court martial. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), the only group monitoring the military's success in implementing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" recorded 340 separate violations of the policy in its first year. As with before the new policy began, those servicemembers suspected of being lesbian or gay are usually harassed and often receive death threats. These victims generally do not turn to their commanding officers for protection, because they fear getting discharged. Lesbians are picked out for dismissal at a disproportionate rate, compared to their actual population in the armed services, representing 25% of all cases handled by SLDN. And most significantly, as if to demonstrate their commitment to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the Pentagon has not disciplined even one official who has flouted the policy.