Los Angeles police officer Julianne Sohn was the lone female Marine officer discharged under "don't ask, don't tell" in 2008. She says the policy, which statistics say affects proportionally more women and minorities in the service, "is like a snapshot of institutional prejudice." (File photo / The Associated Press)
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For the nine years Julianne Sohn was in the military, she lived a double life.
She was a Marine and a lesbian. After a 2005 tour of duty in Iraq, she decided to speak out against the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.
Three years later, after an investigation, she was discharged under the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
Sohn, who is of Korean descent, was one of 209 women and 279 minorities among the 619 troops discharged in 2008 under the 17-year-old policy.
" ‘Don't ask, don't tell' is like a snapshot of institutional prejudice," says Sohn, 33, a Los Angeles police officer.
The ban has disproportionately affected minorities and women. The latest data, compiled by the gay-rights group Servicemembers United from Defense Department numbers, show that in 2008, 45 percent of service members discharged under "don't ask, don't tell" were minorities, while minorities were 30 percent of the service. Women accounted for 34 percent of the discharges but were 14 percent of the military.
The issue is one of economic opportunity for gay men and lesbians who joined the military to get education benefits or have military careers.
"For people of color and women, the military is an opportunity to advance in life," says Evelyn Thomas, a black lesbian discharged from the Marines in 1991. Today, she runs a ministry for gay and lesbian service members near San Diego.
Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith says the military does not know why there is a disproportionate number of discharges for minorities and women and, under the ban, can't look into it.
Votes likely Thursday on repeal of the ban — in the Senate Armed Services Committee and on the floor of the House — are the result of a compromise between Congress and the White House. If a repeal amendment on a spending bill passes both houses, it won't take effect until the Defense Department studies how to implement it. The deadline for the study is Dec. 1.
"It's not ideal," says Aubrey Sarvis, head of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a gay group. "But it's a compromise we support."
It's the best chance to repeal the ban before the November elections, when Democrats are expected to lose seats in Congress, Sarvis says. He says the House is likely to approve the amendment but Senate votes are less certain.
Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, which opposes what it calls the homosexual agenda, says Congress should focus on more important issues, such as the economy and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.