07/12/2010 03:26 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Admiral Mullen - Are These the 'Right Questions' to Ask About DADT?

Admiral Mullen

One month ago, on June 11, Admiral Mike Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared at USC for a community forum on how civilians can help over-stressed returning service members and veterans. As someone who watched friends come home from the Vietnam War profoundly changed, I was moved by Mullen's presentation.

During the Q & A, I asked about the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell in the context of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Mullen gave about a 6-minute answer, repeating what he said during his Feb. 2 congressional testimony: "I find it very difficult to support the fact that someone has to come to work everyday and lie about who they are and what they (applause) believe in - in an institution that values integrity."

No question that Mullen was sincere. But I also felt there an odd disconnect when he talked about the review being conducted by the Pentagon's Comprehensive Review Working Group trying to gauge the impact the DADT repeal might have. This comes about  2:34 into the videotape of Mullen's reply:

"In terms of any kind of objective analysis on how it will effect those it will effect the most, if and when the law changes, isn't out there.... So the purpose of this review is to make sure their voices are heard and we understand it from them and their families - then to take that into consideration as we move ahead.


The questions are the right questions - so that we will be able to statistically get to neck (?) this down to meaningful results and understand, again, from them - their voices are very important here - how they feel about this and what their concerns are....I think responsible leadership throughout is very, very important as we move ahead and I have no doubt that we will get through the review."

Mullen tilted head mic

Perturbed by the constant discussion about how the repeal would impact the people "most effected," I asked, "What about how it impacts us?" Mullen seemed momentarily thrown, but then reiterated his position in favor of repeal.

In part because of Mullen's apparent sincerity, and since the survey was an agreed-upon condition to pass the repeal legislation and since the Pentagon was receiving input from gay groups - many DADT-repeal watchers took a wait-and-see attitude towards the survey while still questioning why it was needed. Then the survey, created by the independent firm Westat, was sent out to 400,000 non-deployed active duty troops (at a cost to taxpayers of $4.4 million, per Servicemembers United) and posted online. Servicemembers Legal Defense Network said, "At this time SLDN cannot recommend that lesbian, gay, or bisexual service members participate in any survey."

Servicemembers United Executive Director Alexander Nicholson, a former U.S. Army interrogator discharged under DADT said:

"While it remains safe for gay and lesbian troops to participate in this survey, it is simply impossible to imagine a survey with such derogatory and insulting wording, assumptions, and insinuations going out about any other minority group in the military. Unfortunately, this expensive survey stokes the fires of homophobia by its very design and will only make the Pentagon's responsibility to subdue homophobia as part of this inevitable policy change even harder.


Flawed aspects of the survey include the unnecessary use of terms that are known to be inflamatory and bias-inducing in social science research, such as the clinical term 'homosexual;' an overwhelming focus on the potential negative aspects of repeal and little or no inclusion of the potential positive aspects of repeal or the negative aspects of the current policy; the repeated and unusual suggestion that a co-worker or leader might need to 'discuss' appropriate behavior and conduct with gay and lesbian troops; and more."

Palm Center Director Dr. Aaron Belkin said:

"This survey is part of the agreed-to process of dismantling 'don't ask, don't tell.' Because servicemembers are just now being educated about the ramifications of ending the policy, we anticipate that the survey results will not be supportive of repeal.  That said, we welcome the results and value the feedback of all the troops.  We will pay close attention to this process."

You can read the entire survey here: 2010 DoD Comprehensive Review Survey of Uniformed Active Duty and Reserve Service Members.  Even the set up for the survey is misleading. Consider this:

"Congress is considering the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law. This law generally requires that a Service member shall be separated if the member is found to have engaged in, or attempted to engage in, homosexual acts. The Department of Defense is now considering changes to this policy."

They forgot to mention that "homosexual acts" includes just saying, "I am gay." One of the craziest constructs of DADT is the total perversion of freedom of speech: saying one is gay is the same as engaging in sodomy because the military assumes speech indicates a propensity to engage in sodomy - a sexual act that is illegal in the military but is obviously selectively enforced.

Frankly, to me, the survey feels like just another political antigay initiative where the one ballot question has been shot-gunned into many questions designed to reach the same conclusion. This time 400,000 servicepeople who could be in a bad mood the day they fill out the survey are getting to vote on the civil rights of gay people. Additionally, the survey seems predicated on an assumption of "gay panic" in the military, which is a very odd selling point: the U.S. military is tough enough to defeat the terrorists but is afraid of the gays.

But bottom line - this survey just seems to condone discrimination in a very insulting way. Consider your reaction if another minority is substituted for gay or lesbian. Bear in mind that many of these same type of questions were raised when President Truman proposed to integrate the military. Here I'm tweaking the questions a bit and substituting segregation for Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which is the same thing by a different name.

Among all the factors that affect a unit's morale, how much did the unit members' belief that this coworker was Jewish (remember the movie "Gentlemen's Agreement?") affect the unit's morale?

If you are working with a Service member in your immediate unit who is Native American (Navajo Code Talkers helped confound the Japanese during World War 2), how, if at all, would it affect your immediate unit's effectiveness at completing its mission?

If you are working with a Service member in your immediate unit who is Asian (Japanese Americans signed up even when their families were in Internment camps), how, if at all, would your level of morale be affected?

If you are working with a Service member in your immediate unit who is a Latino immigrant (many fighting in Iraq and Aghanistan were just sworn in as naturalized citizens), how, if at all, would your job performance be affected?

If segregation is repealed and you are assigned to share a room, berth or field tent with a Black Service member, which are you most likely to do? Mark 1. Take no action; Discuss how we expect each other to behave and conduct ourselves while sharing a room, berth or field tent; Talk to a chaplain, mentor, or leader about how to handle the situation; Talk to a leader to see if I have other options; Something else; Don't know. If you selected 'Something else', please specify below:

If segregation is repealed and you are assigned to bathroom facilities with an open bay shower that a Black Service member also used, which are you most likely to do....?

Mullen longshot

If you are offended by these questions, remember segregation was legal and "traditional" until Truman lifted the ban on people of color serving equally with white straight American men. By the way - it's still against the law for women to serve in combat - but they are serving and dying equally.

I understand why it is important to try to get a 'buy-in" from the volunteer military. But does Admiral Mullen really think these are the "right questions" to help move integration forward? Planning a strategy based on the feelings of 400,000 troops who may be homophobic just doesn't make sense. Para-military organizations such as the LAPD have worked on integration of open gays into the force for a long time and the order from the top is: We do not tolerate homophobia and there are consequences for not obeying this order. (And please don't tell the LAPD that fighting gangs all day and night is not urban combat.)

I had high expectations for Admiral Mullen's commitment to fairness and equality after his congressional comments and I was moved at USC by his concern for his military family. But he now appears to be more like a father worried about supporting his straight son than his gay one, integrity and equality in the military be damned.

So for fairness, we now look to the courts. The Log Cabin Republican's challenge to the segregation of open gays in the military starts Tuesday. Lead attorney Dan Woods tells me, "We are looking forward to starting the trial on Tuesday.  It is time for "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" to have the constitutional test it deserves."

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