"Don't ask, don't tell" discharges down

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com March 26 2003 12:00 AM ET

Military discharges relating to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy were down during fiscal year 2002, according to an analysis of Pentagon numbers by Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a group that is challenging the antigay policy. There were 906 "don't ask, don't tell" discharges in fiscal year 2002, compared with 1,273 in fiscal year 2001. "During any time of war or conflict, gay discharges have dropped," the SLDN report notes. "Gay discharges decreased during the Korean War, the Vietnam conflict, the Persian Gulf War, and now again during Operation Enduring Freedom." SLDN estimates that thousands, if not tens of thousands, of lesbian, gay, and bisexual troops are serving in the current Middle East conflict. "When they need lesbian, gay, and bisexual Americans most, military leaders keep us close at hand," said SLDN executive director C. Dixon Osburn. "The time has come to do away with the Pentagon's charade and make sure no one loses his or her career at the hands of antigay discrimination."

Though the specific reasons for the reported decrease in discharges are unknown, the report finds that two factors may be responsible: First, commands seem to be increasingly reluctant to discharge out lesbian, gay, and bisexual personnel. A recent memo from Twenty-nine Palms Marine Base, cited in the report, states, "Homosexuals can and do serve [h]onorably in the Marine Corps. Homosexuals can and do make some of the best Marines. Homosexuals are capable of Military Service and can and do perform as well as anyone else in the Military." Second, more service members are serving openly, undermining arguments that known lesbians and gays undermine unit cohesion and morale. The report cites, among other examples, the case of Marine Corps captain Kira Zielinski. Zielinski's command, which learned that she is a lesbian in April 2001, delayed her discharge for more than a year. In another case the Navy attempted to retain openly gay hospitalman Roy Hill after learning about Hill's sexual orientation.

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual discharges continue, however, at a rate of nearly three per day, the report says. "The absurdity of the military's gay ban is vividly illustrated by its recent discharge of lesbian and gay Arabic linguists," Osburn said. "Even though the Army faced a 50% shortfall in trained Arabic linguists, they continue to fire qualified and trained linguists who happen to be gay."