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New Study on DADT Repeal: Openly Gay Service Has Worked

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As the demise of "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) approaches its one-year anniversary next week, Huffington Post's Lila Shapiro is reporting on a new study that I wrote, along with eight co-authors, about the impact of the new policy of open service. Given that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has confirmed the success of the repeal process, perhaps it's no surprise that we found that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly has not compromised military readiness.

What is surprising, however, is the group of co-authors itself. When I started working on DADT more than a decade ago, the subject was so toxic in military circles that members of the military community were rarely willing to speak on record about it. If you take a look at the cover page of the new study, however, you'll see that our co-authors include professors at the U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Air Force Academy, and U.S. Marine Corps War College. It really is a new day in America.

What's also surprising is, given how hard we looked for evidence suggesting that repeal has harmed the military, how little we found. Our goal was not just to provide an independent analysis but to affirmatively and vigorously look for problems in the implementation of openly gay service. We reached out to all known, public opponents of DADT repeal because we reasoned that they would be the most likely to know of evidence showing that repeal has harmed the military. We studied the websites and solicited the views of top staff members at major anti-repeal organizations. We reached out to 553 retired generals and admirals who predicted in 2009 that repeal would "break the All-Volunteer Force." We reviewed hundreds of media articles, interviewed almost one hundred troops and experts, conducted a statistical experiment, administered surveys, and observed the field operations of military units.

What did we find? The comments of a heterosexual Army Ranger who we interviewed sums up the story. He said that repealing DADT "didn't change anything... We've got a guy in the unit who is gay. We've been working together for years and everyone knew, but no one ever cared. For us it's all about whether or not you're good at your job... it's all about quiet professionalism, not about your sexual orientation." Even opponents of DADT repeal told the same story. According to a currently-deployed Army National Guard sergeant who opposes open service, there "was not much of a transition, it's not like people come in with rainbow flags or anything... the funny thing about the military is, people come in and do a job. That's all there is to it."

What else? Only two service members, both chaplains, were identified as having left the military as a result of DADT repeal. A Pentagon spokesperson told us that she was not aware of a single episode of violence associated with repeal. Pentagon data show that recruitment and retention remained robust after repeal. Survey data also reveal that service-wide, the troops reported the same level of morale and readiness after repeal as they did prior to repeal. And our statistical experiment found that cohesion increased after repeal. Prior to repeal, experts predicted that disaster would follow from allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly. In light of those concerns, the evidence we found is striking.

Last month, the GOP added a provision to its platform that implies that some members of the party suspect that DADT repeal has not gone smoothly: "We will conduct an objective review of the current administration's management of military personnel and will correct any problems with appropriate administrative of legal action." It's certainly true that some gay and lesbian troops continue to face expressions of bias and harassment, and now that DADT has been repealed, the Defense Department has an unprecedented opportunity to address this aspect of military culture.

But if concerns remain about repeal's impact on combat effectiveness or the military's ability to pursue its mission, those concerns should finally be laid to rest.