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DADT survey wording draws fire from some gays

Jul. 9, 2010 - 02:38PM   |   Last Updated: Jul. 9, 2010 - 02:38PM  |  
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"If don't ask, don't tell is repealed and you had on-base housing and a gay or lesbian service member was living with a same-sex partner on-base, what would you most likely do?"

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"If don't ask, don't tell is repealed and you had on-base housing and a gay or lesbian service member was living with a same-sex partner on-base, what would you most likely do?"

The 400,000 active-duty and reserve troops who received the Pentagon's survey on its policy on gays can choose from eight answers to that question: Two suggest normalcy or an effort to get to know the new neighbors, four suggest discomfort and even moving off base, one is simply "something else" — followed by a space to be more specific — and the last is simply, "don't know."

The survey, which went out Wednesday, aims to gauge troops' attitudes on the possible repeal of the 17-year-old policy against openly gay service members. A copy was leaked Friday by the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Palm Center, a pro-gay research group.

The Pentagon confirmed the authenticity of the question and dozens of others contained in the confidential survey, although it said the Palm Center's copy was not the complete product.

As with a draft version obtained and published online by Military Times on Wednesday, the final version leans heavily on questions about performance, mission completion and morale. While some of the questions are reworded and several new ones are included, the leaked survey generally hews to the tenor of the earlier draft.

As earlier confirmed, it consists of questions in three basic categories:

• Baseline questions regarding respondents' backgrounds.

• Respondents' overall experiences in the military, past experiences serving with individuals they believed to be gay, and the effect that had on unit performance and morale.

• How respondents feel a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" would affect the services across a broad range of issues.

The survey questions were developed by the independent research group Westat in cooperation with the Pentagon.

The Pentagon declined to provide the questions it said were left out of the corroborated final version.

‘Derogatory and insulting'

The survey underscores Defense Secretary Robert Gates' March 2 guidance that the 10-month study on the impact of repeal be carried out in a "thorough and dispassionate" manner, said the Pentagon's top public affairs official, Assistant Secretary of Defense Douglas Wilson.

At least one advocacy group vehemently disagreed.

"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," said Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United and a former Army interrogator who was discharged under "don't ask, don't tell."

"Flawed aspects of the survey include the unnecessary use of terms that are known to be inflammatory 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," he said.

Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said Westat worked with the Defense Manpower Data Center to both develop the questions and come up with the list of 200,000 active-duty and 200,000 reserve and National Guard e-mail addresses.

Westat sent out the surveys and is charged with maintaining the confidentiality of respondents, including those who fill out a confidential "online dialogue" after completing the survey, which they must do within 72 hours, she said.

The survey itself must be completed by Aug. 15, Smith said.

Smith urged service members to fill out the questionnaires and to take the 20- to 30-minute task seriously.

"We want them to be open, candid and honest," Smith said.

The survey is one part of the work of the Comprehensive Review Working Group, established by Gates in the wake of President Obama's call to reverse the ban on open service by gays, which Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen endorsed during February testimony. Since then, the full House has passed a reversal of the law, as has the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The questions

The final survey questions are nearly all multiple choice; 11 ask about the potential impact of repeal on individual and perceived unit morale.

There are questions on leadership challenges; attitudes toward gay co-workers if repeal takes place; the impact of repeal on the ability of a respondents' unit to complete both deployed and non-deployed missions; and off-duty social impact.

Apparently new to the final version were questions about the importance of off-duty socializing among members of the respondents' unit; about whether the respondent thinks he or she is serving with any gays; and about how many other members of a combat unit shared a respondent's belief that one of them was gay.

The draft survey included a question widely voiced by troops, including those who took part in Military Times focus groups last winter and whose opinions, along with those of gay service members and poll respondents, were the basis of a February story on the potential impact of repeal: "If Don't Ask Don't Tell is repealed and a gay or lesbian service member attended a military social with a same-sex partner, which are you most likely to do?"

Potential answers: "continue to attend" such functions, "stop bringing my spouse, significant other or other family members with me to military social functions," "stop attending" such functions," "something else" — again, followed by a blank to be filled in — and "don't know."

The Military Times poll showed that troops generally are satisfied with the current policy banning open service by gays, but that http://militarytimes.com/news/2010/02/military_dontask_survey_020510w/">opposition to repeal is steadily dropping.

In addition to the survey sent out Wednesday, the Working Group continues its visits to various military bases, meetings with advocacy groups at the Pentagon, and gathers data via an "online inbox" at www.defense.gov/dadt, which requires a Common Access Card, Smith said.

In early August, a confidential online survey of 150,000 family members will be launched.

Still to be completed, Smith said, is an update of the 1993 Rand Corp. study, "Sexual Orientation and U.S. Military Personnel Policy: Options and Assessment."

The group's implementation plan is due to Gates by Dec. 1.

———

Have you taken the survey? E-mail Bill McMichael at bmcmichael@atpco.com?subject=Military%20Times:%20Have%20you%20taken%20the%20DADT%20survey?">bmcmichael@atpco.com. All names will be kept confidential.

Related reading

• Pentagon sends out survey on gay troops

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