Uniform Discrimination: The "Donít Ask, Donít Tell" Policy of
the U.S. Military
Human Rights Watch,
January 28, 2003
350 Fifth Avenue, 34th Floor New York, NY 10118-3299
I am attaching a copy of our report Uniform Discrimination: The "Donít
Ask, Donít Tell" Policy of the U.S. Military which can also be found on
our website at: http://www.hrw.org/reports/2003/usa0103.
The report describes the history, nature, and impact of the militaryís
current policy toward gays and lesbians. We conclude that the "donít
ask, donít tell" policy is based on outdated prejudices, violates
fundamental human rights, and has not been shown to further the U.S. militaryís
effectiveness. Indeed, the policy is counterproductive: it denies the country
the service of skilled, trained, and dedicated servicemembers.
Despite the stated intention of the policy to allow gay, lesbian, and
bisexual servicemembers to remain in the military, discharges have steadily
increased since the policyís adoption. According to the Servicemembers Legal
Defense Network (SLDN), from 1994 through the end of 2001, more than 7,800 men
and women were discharged from the military because of their actual or
perceived homosexuality. In 2001 alone, a record 1,256 were discharged, a
figure nearly double the homosexual separation rate of 730 in 1992, prior to
the institution of the "donít ask, donít tell" policy.
In practice, the "donít ask, donít tell" policy perpetuates
anti-gay harassment by creating a separate, less-than-equal class of
servicemembers vulnerable to abuse. Because of the policy, servicemembers
endure anti-gay threats or physical attacks in silence for fear that reporting
them will lead to disclosure of their sexual orientation and hence a discharge
under the policy.
The Department of Defense has itself documented the hostile environment for
gay and lesbian servicemembers that has thrived under the "donít ask,
donít tell" policy. In March 2000, the Defense Department published a
study showing that eighty percent of servicemembers surveyed randomly had
heard offensive speech, derogatory names, jokes, or negative remarks about gay
men or lesbians during the previous year. Eighty-five percent believed such
comments were tolerated to some extent. Thirty-seven percent reported they had
witnessed or experienced an incident they considered to be anti-gay
The Pentagon has done little to protect gay and lesbian servicemembers from
hostile treatment or violence by other servicemembers. In response to its own
surveyís findings and high-profile violent attacks against servicemembers
perceived to be gay, the Pentagon announced in July 2000 an Action Plan to
combat anti-gay harassment. Yet, two-and-a-half years later, the plan has not
been implemented. As it is, anti-gay harassment of servicemembers is committed
with near total impunity, as are violations of the military rules against
unauthorized or unduly intrusive investigations into a servicememberís
Supporters of "donít ask, donít tell" argue that permitting
acknowledged gays or lesbians to serve in the military would impair unit
cohesion and hence military effectiveness. There is no evidence to support
that argument. Over the last decade, a number of U.S. allies, including the
United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and Israel, have changed exclusionary
policies and accepted gay men and lesbians into their armed forces without
impairing the effectiveness of their military. Today, most NATO countries
permit gay men and lesbians to serve on the same terms as heterosexuals.
In separate letters to President George W. Bush and Secretary of Defense
Donald Rumsfeld, Human Rights Watch called on the administration to: propose
and pursue the repeal of 10 USC 654, the "donít ask, donít tell"
policy codified in 1993; implement the Department of Defenseís
Anti-Harassment Action Plan to address anti-gay harassment; order each service
branch to suspend indefinitely all investigations and discharges under the
policy, consult with allies about how they integrated their armed forces to
assist the U.S. military in implementing a new policy of non-discrimination in
the most efficient manner; and repeal the sodomy provisions of the Uniform
Code of Military Justice.
We hope that you find this report of interest. If you have any questions
about its content or our advocacy plans on this issue, please contact Wendy
Patten, U.S. Advocacy Director, at 202-612-4321.
Jamie Fellner, Esq.
Director, U.S. Program
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