SANTA BARBARA, September 13 –
Scholars in California studying military personnel policy have found a
controversial regulation halting the discharge of gay soldiers in units that
are about to be mobilized.
The document is significant because
of longstanding Pentagon denials that the military requires gays to serve
during wartime, only to fire them once peacetime returns. According to the
“don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, gays and lesbians must be discharged whether
or not the country is at war.
The regulation, contained in a 1999
“Reserve Component Unit Commander's Handbook” and still in effect, states
that if a discharge for homosexual conduct is requested “prior to the unit's
receipt of alert notification, discharge isn’t authorized. Member will
enter AD [active duty] with the unit.”
The 1999 document was obtained by
researchers at the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military
(CSSMM), a think tank at the University of California, Santa Barbara during
research for an ABC Nightline story.
Gay soldiers and legal groups have
reported for years that known gays are sent into combat, and then discharged
when the conflicts end. Discharge statistics corroborate a pattern of
rising expulsions during peacetime and plummeting rates during military
conflicts, and Pentagon statistics confirm that, as has been the case in
every war since World War II, gay discharges have declined during the
current conflict in the Middle East.
But the Pentagon has consistently
denied that, when mobilization requires bolstering troop strength, it sends
gays to fight despite the existence of a gay ban, and some observers have
insisted there is no evidence of such a practice.
During the first Gulf War, Pentagon
spokesman, Bill Caldwell, said the military would “absolutely not” send gays
to war and discharge them when the conflict ends. “The policy on gays
continues that homosexuality is incompatible with military service,” he
said. [Randy Shilts, Army Discharges Lesbian Who Challenged Ban, San
Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 19, 1991.]
Shortly after the terrorist attacks
of 9/11, a Pentagon spokesman said that the military was not modifying its
regulations on gay troops.
“There is no policy that would
generate a change in the standards or in the administrative due process for
[Pentagon] programmes,” said James Turner, “including the department’s
management of homosexual conduct policies as prescribed in law.” [Chris
Bull, 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' Goes to War, The Advocate, December 4,
And a May 2005 study by the
Congressional Research Service says that although gay discharges do decline
during wartime, the decrease is the result of random fluctuations in the
data, not an intentional Pentagon policy of retaining gays during wars [Homosexuals
and U.S. Military Policy: Current Issues, p. 12].
The co-author of that recent
report, David Burrelli, testified before Congress in 1993 that the
Congressional Research Service “has been unable to confirm or deny” that
known gays were sent to the Persian Gulf, and that the military has “taken
the approach of excluding all admitted homosexuals.” [David Burrelli,
Congressional testimony, page 9, 10]
But the newly discovered handbook
regulations appear to contradict all of these pronouncements.
Bridget Wilson, an expert on
military law, said the handbook shows “how arbitrary and capricious the law
is.” The policy says that if gay troops reveal their sexual orientation,
they must be fired.
But these regulations say that if
someone comes out as gay, a commander “can discount that statement in one
context and not in another.” He can “choose to ignore that statement as
being said solely to avoid duty and send that person on. But he wouldn't
have to make a finding that the statement was false, only that the person
said it to avoid duty.”
Thus it is fully possible that
avowed gays would be sent to active duty. “If you're knowingly sending gay
people into a war zone,” said Wilson, “doesn't that vitiate your policy?”
The handbook is a revised edition
of a similar document from 1990, which contains identical language
regulating the mobilization of gay troops.
That handbook was cited in a
disputed Wall Street Journal article reporting that the Pentagon was sending
known gays to the first Persian Gulf War only to discharge them upon their
David Burrelli questioned the Wall
Street Journal’s allegations that a Commander's Handbook barred the
discharge of gays during a mobilization.
“No such handbook has been found,”
he wrote, “nor has their [sic] been any documentation that any such bars
existed.” [David Burrelli, An Overview of the Debate on Homosexuals in
the U.S. Military, in Wilbur Scott and Sandra Carson Stanley, eds.,
Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military: Issues, Concerns, and Contrasts, FN#
21, p. 30] The Commander’s Handbook located by CSSMM scholars now
provides such documentation.
Prior to the first Gulf War, the
government issued a “stop-loss” order allowing the services to retain troops
who were facing discharge for a variety of reasons.
Following the attacks of 9/11, a
similar stop-loss order was issued, but when the services implemented it,
most specified that discharges would continue for homosexual conduct.
In both cases, however, dozens of
allegations surfaced that the military was sending known gays to war. The
two handbooks retrieved this week by CSSMM researchers are among the first
evidence of written regulations clearing the way for known gays to mobilize.
Bridget Wilson said that the
Reserve Commander’s handbook may be used as a way for commanders in the
Reserve to “pass the buck” to other officials.
“It's the ‘let’s make it someone
else’s problem’ mentality,” she said, and it suggests that many commanders
would rather not enforce the gay ban.
“I bet ninety percent of the time,
they’ll tell the guy to shut up and get on the plane,” Wilson said, Aand I
think that’s the purpose – they’re trying to massage their way around the
According to Dr. Aaron Belkin,
director of the CSSMM: “Scholars, lawyers and, most importantly, gay service
members themselves, have long known of the military’s practice of looking
the other way when it's time to fight a war. Now we have documentation
showing this has been a deliberate policy.”
■ The Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in
the Military is an official research unit of the University of California,
Santa Barbara. The Center is governed by a distinguished board of advisors
including the Honorable Lawrence J. Korb of the Center for American
Progress, Honorable Coit Blacker of Stanford University and Professor Janet
Halley of Harvard Law School. Its mission is to promote the study of gays,
lesbians, and other sexual minorities in the armed forces.
Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the