Balkinization  

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Asking Different Questions in a “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” Army

Ian Ayres

Ian Ayres and Jennifer Brown

Imagine that every soldier upon entering the military was asked a simple question.

Would you prefer to serve in a command without any gay personnel?
Soldiers would know that if they answer “No” they would be assigned to an “inclusive” command, and that if they answer “Yes” they would be assigned to an “exclusive” command.

Asking this question does not violate “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” because it does not ask a soldier about his or her own sexual orientation. But it nonetheless is likely to promote a kind of voluntary integration in the inclusive command. In an essay just published in the Michigan law review, we argue that:
The benefits of the inclusive units would be threefold: amelioration (of current
discrimination), demonstration (that DADT is not necessary to preserve unit
cohesion), and realignment of political allies and enemies (creating a common
cause for pro-gay legislators on the left and pro-defense legislators on the
right). The proposal is dynamic, not static. The hope is that inclusive commands
would so effectively demonstrate the benefits of integration that, over time,
increasing numbers of service members would opt for integrated units. From
there, the step to universal, mandatory integration of sexual minorities into
the armed forces would be smaller and more easily taken.
The inclusive command idea is a particular example of two themes that we explore in a variety of contexts in our forthcoming book, Straightforward: How to Mobilize Heterosexual Support for Gay Rights:
First, there are often valuable incremental strategies between seeming intractable dichotomies. And second, heterosexual allies often play a crucial role in effectuating these strategies.

Comments:

Huh, so you'd have gay units and a straight units? As long as the gay units were kept busy, maybe it would work...
 

Segregate the homophobes? Why don't we also ask who wants to serve in all-white, all-black, and all-male units as well? Then, we can all start arm-chair quarterbacking why the all-whatever unit is sent in to combat first and what societal flaw is responsible for that.
 

both of the prior comments miss the point entirely. the post is not looking for "gay units", "straight units", or "homophobe units". the point is to give fresh recruits the opportunity to say whether or not they wish to serve in a unit that might have a gay person already serving in it. it would seem to me that those who say they don't mind will be entering a unit that is more cohesive because there is more of a likelihood that each member of the unit respects the others, regardless of their orientation; therefore, the unit is more likely to have higher morale, and by extension, greater cohesiveness.

by the same token, those who say they do not want to serve in a unit with gay soldiers and officers also get what they want. they don't have to have their sensibilities offended. they get the confidence, to whatever extent that might occur, that they are not serving alongside a gay person. they therefore also end up respecting their peers around them for what they are, stand up for their peers, and therefore develop the morale, cohesiveness and effectiveness as a unit.

in the long run, even if you view the "all straight" units as latently or blatantly bigotted, or the "all gay" units as morally reprehensible, isn't the ultimate point of the military unit to have high morale, cohesiveness and effectiveness as a unit?
 

Unit cohesion is certainly important, but so is cohesion at highler levels. This approach ingrains a tension in the overall fighting force that could have very serious consequences in large-scale actions.

As far as the notion that this allows soldiers who do not wish to serve with gay soldiers to serve without getting their sensibilities offended is silly. If that were the case, de-segregation of the army would have never worked. I am also sure that some men would absolutely cherish the opportunity to have women in combat positions, if for no other reason than the opportunity for fraternization. You also ignore the fact that you would have to keep these units separate at all times. During large actions or actions that necessitated attaching smaller portions of one unit to another, the problem of "offending sensibilities" arises.

Your post also does not address the cause for concern about unit cohesiveness held by many who do not support openly gay service members, and that is sexual relations between soldiers. There are a myriad of rules that govern these relationships between men and women in the armed forces, many of which are routinely broken. Because men and women do not serve together in combat units, however, we have never had the problem of problems in units under fire. However, if you have same-sex units where fraternization may be a problem, these concerns may be realized. Soldiers who have intimate relationships with other soliders, including all the petty jealousies, love triangles, and power stuggles between superior/suboridnate lovers, can come to play. None of these are addressed by this idea.


The simple fact remains that full intergration of openly gay service members needs to either happen a la racial desegregation or it needs not to happen. This is more of a societal thing. When society finally feels that these distinctions should not make a difference, it will happen. Until then, half-measures will only make more problems that they fix, this half-measure included.
 

You just know the "gay units" would be stigmatized in some way, and probably underestimated as members of a fighting force, Alexander the Great etc. irregardless. I'm kind of picturing the Monty Python "Trial of Sapper Walters."
 

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"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is a repugnant social policy borne out of prejudice and politics. "Inclusive" and "Exclusive" unit designations are only slightly less so.

There is no pressing need for futher demonstration about the ability to integrate armed forces to include homosexuals. Homosexuals and Lesbians have, in fact, served for years -- and other nations have a long history of already including homosexuals serving openly in their armed forces. Is the U.S. any less civilized?

The separation of military recruits and enlistees into separate designated units would in fact only continue to give tacit approval to the moral judgment and prejudice that makes being homophobic in our society the last socially acceptable form of discrimination based on immutable characteristics of those being discriminated against. From boardrooms to ballgames, from the floor of the U.S. Congress to our schools, homosexual epithets are thrown about without serious repercussions still; while similar acts based on race or religion draw universal outrage of citizens and politicians alike.

The racial integration of the U.S. Military was only achieved through an Executive Order that mandated it -- not through a gradual use of "inclusive" units.

I wholly reject your proposal, as well-intentioned as it may be.

SEPARATE IS NOT EQUAL.
 

"The number of gay and lesbian service members discharged under the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy has dropped by almost half since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and is at its lowest level since the Defense Department began keeping such figures in 1997 . . . Overall, the total number of service members discharged under the policy on gays in the military has dropped from a high of 1,227 in 2001 to 653 in 2004.

* * * *

"Military historians have recorded drops in the discharges of gays during war time dating to World War II, when the Pentagon officially adopted a ban on homosexual personnel.

"'What has traditionally happened is that there is a decline during a war and then a spike in discharges right after,' said Sharon Alexander, a lawyer for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an advocacy group for gay men and lesbians in the military. 'We noticed that during the Persian Gulf, the number of discharges was practically nonexistent and then it shot way up.'"
Washington Post, February 12, 2005

It is impossible to explain away such dramatic changes in the discharge of homosexuals during times of war other than that the need of the military is great, ergo, fewer homosexuals are discharged. The hypocrisy of this is fairly self-evident.

But one can also infer than when push comes to shove, homosexuals can be successfully integrated into and serve in the Armed Forces. What has been lacking is the moral backbone of the politicians and military officers to order it and MAKE IT HAPPEN. Because it is the right thing to do and for the good of the country and all our citizens.

SEPARATE IS NOT EQUAL.
 

This also raises a further observation that bothers me greatly as a gay man.

There seems to be a belief among some who are supportive of gay rights -- and this certainly includes the major gay rights lobbying organizations such as HRC -- that we should seek incremental victories in our search of equality.

Even though I am denied full equality under the law as a citizen of this country and am not protected from discrimination, I should sit by and patiently bide my time and wait for the majority to "see the light" and recognize my full equality.

I, on the other hand, prefer - no demand it -- in my lifetime. I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore. FULL EQUALITY NOW. There is no reasons that gay and lesbian Americans should seek, settle for or receive anything less. Opposition to full equality is largely built upon the success of right-wing, religious demogogues; effective in their organization, but not representative of all Americans. And their continued success has hinged on a non-stop campaign of hatred, mis-information and gay-bashing as a political tool. It is shameful and Un-American and not the best that this country can be.

Gay and Lesbian Americans are now proudly serving in Iraq and Afghanistan to defend your freedoms. The very least that they should expect of you is to defend their freedoms here at home: to serve in the military, to be free to marry, to not fear discrimination in employment and housing, to be free from the fear of violence against their person.

SEPARATE IS NOT EQUAL.
 

Johnnyatl wrote:
"Gay and Lesbian Americans are now proudly serving in Iraq and Afghanistan to defend your freedoms." I don't believe you. Prove it. Produce the evidence.
 

A study titled "Gays and Lesbians at War: Military Service in Iraq and Afghanistan Under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell," published September 15, 2004 by the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military and based on 30 in-depth interviews with gay, lesbian and bisexual service members who were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since Oct. 7, 2001 reports how U.S. gay and lesbian soldiers served effectively in Iraq and Afghanistan, with one gay soldier helping to rescue Iraqi prisoner of war Jessica Lynch.

The study tells dozens of stories, including that of Brian Hughes, a gay Army Ranger who was part of the elite task force that rescued prisoner of war Jessica Lynch. According to the report, Hughes took time off from Yale University to join the Army in August of 2000. In the fall of 2002, he was deployed to Afghanistan and later Iraq, where he helped rescue the missing soldier.

More generally, do an Internet search yourself. There are innumerable stories from gay and lesbian personnel that are serving. They have been reported in major media. They include service members who detailed their orientation and service after having voluntarily left when their obligation ended, those who have been discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and those who are still serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and communicating while keeping their sexual orientation private.

Personally, I know numerous service members who have been in Iraq.
And as an attorney who has done pro-bono work for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, I have interviewed many others who have served or are serving.

The evidence is widely and freely available – as well as acknowledged by the Armed Forces themselves.

But I'm sure the above will carry little weight with you. As rather than choose to respond to my arguments above, you instead simply deny the problem (and inequality) exists. Oh how clever of you.

SEPARATE IS NOT EQUAL.
 

Geraty,

Yes, there are homosexuals in the military proudly protecting your pathetic, bigoted behind -- there are and always have been. Why do you find that so unbelievable?

If you really think that all gay men are weak and limp-wristed I dare you to go into a gay bar or gay gym and yell "faggot."

Go ahead, I dare you.
 

At first, I thought Scott's second post made a surprisingly strong argument when he said, "Soldiers who have intimate relationships with other soliders, including all the petty jealousies, love triangles, and power stuggles between superior/suboridnate lovers, can come to play. None of these are addressed by this idea."

Thinking more about this though, it only makes sense if under the current system gay soldiers are never able to identify each other and form relationships. If they can, all of these issues would already be having an affect. In fact, considering that homosexual soldiers have always been in the military, if these were real problems they would have been problems throughout history.

However, Scott's point about exclusive units having to work with inclusive units in larger exercises is a real objection.
 

While I appreciate the attempt to press forward on the military issue, I don't see this how proposal would advance things much.

For instance, how would it "effectively demonstrate the benefits of integration"? Opponents of full integration would seemingly always be able to argue that there were no morale or unit cohesion problems in the integrated units precisely because of the self-selection into those units of straights who didn't have a problem serving with gays. The experience of such units would not tell us, empirically, anything about how integration would work in the case of straights who would not choose integration because they are prejudiced against gays. It's those prejudices that the military cites today to justify DADT; it doesn't purport to claim that the presence of gays would cause disruptions for all straight soldiers.

Second, the proposal seems to incorrectly assume that straight soldiers who resist integration do so because they themselves fear integration would undermine morale and unit cohesion. Seeing that integration doesn't cause these problems would supposedly induce more straights to voluntarily join the integrated units. This seem woefully naive. I'd say the objections of most of the straight enlistees, who'd be asked to make a choice, are not based on anything remotely connected with morale and unit cohesion concerns. They simply fear and loathe gays. It wouldn't matter to them how effectively integrated units functioned, they still wouldn't sign up to serve with "faggots" in their units. It would undermine their "fragile" masculinity. Remember, we're talking about 18-year-old boys, not men with significant life experience who'd be making the choice.

Finally, there is no reason to suppose that this policy would attract significant support from opponents of integration or that any demonstration of success in integrated units would sway them either. Why? Because for most of the political opponents of integration, morale and unit cohesion are but the latest in a long series of pretexts used as fig leaves to cover what is, at base, antigay prejudice. Why would opponents of integration support this proposal, when it might threaten to create empirical evidence that undermines the morale and unit cohesion pretexts they've been relying on?
 

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