Friday, March 09, 2012

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

On March 8, 2012, Colonel Gary Packard came to Texas A&M University to speak about the lessons learned from the recent repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. His speech took place in an auditorium that was filled with about 200 guests, mostly students. About half were students in uniform.

Col. Packard began by talking about his own upbringing. The society in which he'd been raised was such that he, as a straight guy, didn't think much about homosexuality in the military, but when he did, it was in a negative context. After 30 years in the military and a master's degree in psychology, however, he was asked by the Pentagon to be on the team to study whether or not a repeal of the early 1990s legislation would have a negative effect on the U.S. Armed Forces. The short answer is that no, they didn't think it would. So far, they've been right, and there has been no negative effect. In fact, the argument could be made that the effect has been a positive one.

A bit on the research itself: the task force collected qualitative and quantitative data from tens of thousands of military personnel and their families about how they felt about gay people in the military. They also got information from over 200 gay service members, collected anonymously. By the law, if they were to acquire information from gay members who came out as being gay, they'd have to discharge them. Catch-22, yes?

Anyway, here were some of the preliminary questions they asked in the study:
  1. Have other types of integration negatively affected the military? (NO!) They looked at racial integration in the 1940s and gender integration in the late 1970s and found that although opposition was much higher (80% for both types of integration among servicemembers), when they did integrate blacks and other minorities and women, units actually found that there was more cohesion and more efficacy. [When I heard this, I texted the people next to me - "Wha? Diversity is a good thing?" ... because I was feeling sarcastic.]
  2. Has sexual orientation integration in other countries (like the UK, Australia, Italy, Germany, etc) negatively affected their militaries? The answer, again, was NO, and that integration may have even helped.
  3. They also distributed, collected, and analyzed the surveys I mentioned before and determined that even though the opposition to serving with gays in the military was deeper for religious and moral issues, a small minority of the Armed Forces members who completed the surveys said they would be negatively affected. In fact, among groups who suspected they were working with gay members already, most people found that there was no effect or a positive effect on team cohesion, work effectiveness, etc. 
There was some worry about large attrition rates after Don't Ask, Don't Tell's repeal was put into effect in September, 2010. Data shows that attrition has not increased, though. Maybe it's due to tough economic times and nobody wanting to leave a secure job for any reason, or maybe it's that people really don't care, that society has changed enough that it's - in the words of many servicemembers - a 'non-issue.' I would like to think so. Anecdotally, I chatted with my brother before I went to the lecture and he, an enlisted Air Force member, told me that he hasn't talked to a single person who has had a problem with the repeal. He has friends who are liberal and friends who are conservative and - again, anecdotally - nobody cares.

What else? It is interesting to note that harassment cases that arise because of a person's sexual orientation do not go through the Equal Opportunity office but through the Inspector General's office. This is because a person's sexual orientation is not even considered in a person's enlistment or commission. It's a question that's not asked, so it's not strictly protected by EO. However, discrimination, harassment, and violence are not tolerated, so any issues will go through the IG. Colonel Packard let us know that there haven't been any big issues of that nature and that the few they've had have been solved at low levels, resolved before they needed to escalate to higher channels.

What's next? A few people in the audience wanted to know about the fate of transgender individuals in the military. Colonel Packard made it clear that his opinion was his own and did not reflect the USAF's or the DOD's position when he said he didn't think society was ready for it yet and that he thinks transgender issues are much more medical and physical in nature. Maybe eventually, but right now the number of transgender individuals is so small it just hasn't been a priority. 

An anecdote: The Commandant of the Marines, when asked by Congress what he thought personally about repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, told them that he didn't think it should be repealed. However, after the orders were given, he went back to the Marines and told them that they would be the leaders in the change and would do it better than anyone else. Packard's point in retelling this story was to reiterate to the servicemembers in the room that Duty comes before personal beliefs. The oath is to the Constitution.

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