New Poll: “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Headed To The Dustbin of History?

Jim Burroway

December 20th, 2006

A new poll of current and former military service members about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was conducted by Zogby International (PDF: 203KB/27 pages). The University of Californa at Santa Barbara’s Michael D. Palm Center, who commissioned the survey, announced the results yesterday. Some of the key findings:

  • “Do you agree or disagree with allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military?” 26% agree, 37% disagree, 32% are neutral.
  • “In your unit, are there people you suspect are gay or lesbian, but don’t know for sure?” 45% answered yes, 31% no, and 25% not sure. Of those who answered “yes”:
    • 49% believed the presence of gays in the unit would not impact personal morale, and only 26% believe it would not impact the unit’s morale. 38% believed it would have a negative impact on personal morale and 58% believed it had a negative impact on the unit’s morale.
  • “Do you know for certain that someone is gay or lesbian in your unit?” 23% answered yes, 61% no, and 17% not sure. Of those who answered “yes”:
    • 55% believed the presence of gays or lesbians in the unit was well-know by others; 25% said they were not well-known, and 21% were not sure
    • 66% believed the presence of gays in the unit did not impact personal morale, and 64% believe it did not impact the unit’s morale. Only 28% believed it had a negative impact on personal morale and 27% believed it had a negative impact on the unit’s morale.

Notice the difference in answers to troop morale between those who knew there were gays and lesbians in their unit and those who only thought there were gays and lesbians in their unit. When service members actually know someone who is gay, they are much less likely to report a negative impact on morale. When they only suspect someone is gay, they are much more likely to assume a negative impact on morale. This suggests that the current uncertainties surrounding “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” actually contributes to problems with morale.

Other interesting findings:

  • Of those who knew for certain that someone in their unit who was gay or lesbian, 8% said they knew because they saw the person at a gay club, bar, parade, political activity, etc. While the survey did not ask if the respondent is gay or lesbian, it appears that a few were actually questioned by the survey.
  • In your current unit, how often do you take showers privately, such as in a single-stall shower rather than an open group shower?” 49% almost always shower privately, and another 22% usually shower privately.
  • “Personally, how comfortable are you in the presence of gays and lesbians?” 73% answered that they were comfortable, and 19% were uncomfortable.
  • “Would you have still joined the military if gays and lesbians were allowed to serve openly?” 78% said yes, and only 10% said no.

According to the Sevicemembers Legal Defense Network, 4,376 service members were discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” between 2001 and 2005. These poll results indicate that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is an anachronism that continues to have a negative impact on military morale, deprives our armed forces of critical skills, (including Arab translators), and may even leave service members who “Don’t Tell” potentially vulnerable to blackmail and whisper campaigns. It is time for the new Congress to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

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