Photograph by Jeff Sheng.

The Denver Post has a story today on a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” advocacy groups efforts to challenge the Pentagon on the methodology of the Working Group’s study. Saying the current method has left a “gaping hole” in the information gathering process.

Sponsored by Citizens For Repeal, the group represents more than 250 gay and lesbian active-duty soldiers. They’ve made a request of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

We ask that you allow the Pentagon working group to approach gay members of the military, under the current policy, without fear of retribution. We ask that our current service be respected as this critical inquiry proceeds. As we lay our lives on the line like our colleagues we ask our leaders to honor our service and respect our sacrifice by defending our service against these attacks.

The full letter, and responses from Pentagon and Senator Udall after the fold.First the full letter.

June 7, 2010

Secretary Gates:

We, as openly gay and lesbian service men and women, write to you today to express our dismay at a significant omission from current efforts to study the impact of repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. The dilemma created by current policies effectively prevents interviews of gay and lesbian servicemembers and the heterosexual colleagues who knowingly serve alongside them, and it has left a gaping hole in the current investigation.

Many of us have served, and will continue to serve, openly in our units -across all branches of the military. It is unlikely that any servicemembers will speak out honestly regarding open service because of the scarlet letter that has been symbolically placed on gay and lesbian men and women in the military. Leadership that has allowed open service would dare not admit it for fear of retaliation. These are the very units that should be studied the most, for they most clearly demonstrate the capacity for soldiers to serve with each other, regardless of sexual orientation, while still being highly effective at their service to our country.

This unbalanced debate hurts our military cohesion when we need it the most. Our heterosexual counterparts see their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters at arms being unjustifiably called "a social experiment" and "potential rapists" while no leadership defends us. The very groups that make these claims have direct access to the Pentagon working group, but gay and lesbian soldiers who risk their lives every day, do not.

Failure to directly interview gay and lesbian troops will result in failure to show that the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy has allowed the worst of atrocities to occur in our military and go unreported. Gay and lesbian servicemembers are given the choice to either report heinous crimes, such as rape, blackmail, and assault, or sacrifice the careers they love.

We ask that you allow the Pentagon working group to approach gay members of the military, under the current policy, without fear of retribution. We ask that our current service be respected as this critical inquiry proceeds. As we lay our lives on the line like our colleagues we ask our leaders to honor our service and respect our sacrifice by defending our service against these attacks.

I’ve personally noticed commented on my own concerns regarding the hetrosexist nature of the messaging and approach toward this issue, both within the military community and from the media (gay voices not included in media debate of DADT).

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) challenged Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Mullen on this issue during the June hearings. Frankly, Mullen seemed a little stumped, as though this was an issue that had not occurred to anyone at the Pentagon. The video is below, it occurs in the first three minutes.

McCaskill: Here’s my problem, we now have established we have gays and lesbian Americans serving in the military, that they are not broadly causing any broad disciplinary or moral problems, that we welcome their service.

The issue is not whether or not we have gays and lesbians serving in the military, it’s whether or not we talk about it. So, how are you going to get their input in this survey?

Mullen: Well, actually, I mean, my take on that is…, hang on a second… [long pause] um… It think we would have to look very carefully at how we would do that.

McCaskill: I think that’s the point I’d like to leave you with today is that unfortunately because of this policy, we welcome their service, they’re serving bravely and well. We don’t have any kind of issues with moral and cohesive surrounding their service. But yet when it comes time to evaluate their service they’re not allowed to talk about it, and so you have a real challenge in getting, perhaps, maybe some of the most important input you need surrounding this policy and I’ll be anxious awaiting how you figure that one out.

I’d say, considering her expressed concerns, and her history of support, both in the arena of public discourse, and her vote on the Senate Armed Services Committee, it might be a good idea to follow up with McCaskill as well. McCaskill’s contact information is here:

CLAIRE MCCASKILL (MO)
202-224-6154 email
573-442-7130 816-421-1639 314-367-1364
5850 A Delmar Blvd, Ste. A, St. Louis, MO 63112

Let’s ask if she ever got a satisfying answer from the Pentagon on that question?

In response to this effort, the Denver Post reports:

Pentagon officials conceded that they are limited in the ways that they can collect information for the study, due Dec. 1, which commanders told Congress in February would be key to repealing a policy still popular with many in the military.

However, officials said they are also setting up work- arounds that might include a hotline or anonymous interviews done by a third-party contractor.

Sen. Mark Udall (CO) has been approached by these advocates, and is onboard with involving himself in oversight, however informally:

“I will be on close watch to ensure that gay and lesbian service members currently serving in the military who participate and answer questions as part of Secretary Gates’ review are able to speak openly and honestly about their experiences without fear of retaliation,” Udall said.

I think this action from Citizens for Repeal, and anecdotal reports I’ve been getting from LGB troops that have written me since I started reporting on this subject, suggest that Pentagon attempts to incorporate LGB voices into the study are worrisomely inadequate. An excerpt from an email I’ve recieved:

This whole process of studying is so degrading. Our government does not care about us, and the Military establishment wishes they could just get rid of us. You were dead on, they are speaking to the homophobes and that is it.

A more diplomatic statement from an active duty soldier appears in the Denver Post article:

Many of those stories can’t be told under the current process, they say, despite the millions of dollars the Pentagon is spending on the study.

“They’re missing a lot,” a gay Air Force officer and member of the [Citizens For Repeal] said of the Pentagon investigators.

“They need to learn how gay soldiers and straight soldiers are getting along right now and how we can make that work across the whole military. That’s how they can learn about the relationships and how we can get past the barriers and the stigma.”

The Pentagon has thus far not been transparent and accountable regarding the study’s methodology. Reports of attempts to anonymize seem problematic: a soldier must enter their Department of Defense ID into a system, and take on faith it will actually remain anonymous and untraceable. This does not square with standard operating procedure of the DOD that has many times violated the “Don’t Ask” part of the 1993 compromise. Absent an expressed immunity from prosecution, surely many troops will feel reticent to participate.

If some, already known by their units to be open and serving, they are willing to attend a Town Hall of their own, do they not deserve such a show of respect? I don’t this this group’s request is unreasonable, from the letter:

We ask that you allow the Pentagon working group to approach gay members of the military, under the current policy, without fear of retribution. We ask that our current service be respected as this critical inquiry proceeds. As we lay our lives on the line like our colleagues we ask our leaders to honor our service and respect our sacrifice by defending our service against these attacks.

As a general principle “immunity from prosecution” in exchange for testimony, is a time honored tradition in the land. I refuse to believe there is no manner such accomodations can be made for our LGB troops. With a roster of over 250 LGB active duty troops in just Citizens for Repeal a large pool could be assembled easily enough. Add several other advocacy groups to the outreach effort, such as Servicemembers United, Servicemember Legal Defense Network, Human Rights Campaign and the effort to find LGB Active Duty Servicemembers willing to speak out for themselves, and their fellow LGB servicemembers, will be minimal.

They want to be heard. Will the Pentagon let them talk without fear?

Cross-posted from The Daily Kos