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The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network is warning LGB service members about the confidentiality of surveys issued by the Department of Defense on Wednesday, fearing that the surveys may not remain anonymous or confidential while "don't ask, don't tell" is still in effect.
The Department of Defense has not guaranteed immunity for any service members inadvertently outed by participating in the surveys, SLDN said in a statement Thursday.
"A number of service members have contacted SLDN to seek guidance on surveys concerning the repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' -- the discriminatory law barring gay and lesbian service members from serving with integrity," SLDN executive director Aubrey Service said in the statement. "At this time SLDN cannot recommend that lesbian, gay, or bisexual service members participate in any survey being administered by the Department of Defense, the Pentagon Working Group, or any third-party contractors. While the surveys are apparently designed to protect the individual's privacy, there is no guarantee of privacy and DOD has not agreed to provide immunity to service members whose privacy may be inadvertently violated or who inadvertently outs himself or herself. If a service member still wishes to participate, he or she should only do so in a manner that does not reveal sexual orientation."
The surveys were delivered to 200,000 active duty troops and 200,000 reservists via e-mail Wednesday. Gen. Carter F. Ham, commander of the U.S. Army in Europe and co-head of the review panel, said the Pentagon survey was integral to the repeal of the law.
While the review committee has been meeting with troops and family members since February, the surveys were distributed to gauge the opinions of a cross section of the military's 2.2 million members. Recipients were chosen based on age, rank, service, component, military specialties, education, marital status and other factors.
"What these sessions do afford is an opportunity for [Pentagon lawyer Jeh] Johnson and myself to speak directly to servicemembers, to hear in their own words what their assessment of the impact of repeal of the current law would be should Congress decide to take that action," Ham said in the article. "Those sessions provide us context. They provide us substance to what we know we will get statistically from the survey and put it in real terms of how real servicemembers feel about this."
SLDN said it asked the Department of Defense and the Pentagon Working Group for text of the surveys and guarantees of confidentiality and immunity last week, but the Department of Defense could not satisfy the request.
The Defense Department said on Wednesday, a nonconfidential online inbox is available for military and civilian members of the Defense Department to log their input of a possible repeal. The site is not confidential, but after logging onto the site, troops can acquire an untraceable PIN number, which they can use to log in on any computer to continue a "confidential dialogue" with non-Defense Department members of the working group, the general said.
The Palm Center, an LGBT think tank on military policy, also issued a statement concerning the survey, but did not explicitly advise troops to skip the survey.
"This survey is part of the agreed-to process of dismantling 'don't ask, don't tell,'" said Palm Center director Aaron Belkin. "Because servicemembers are just now being educated about the ramifications of ending the policy, we anticipate that the survey results will not be supportive of repeal. That said, we welcome the results and value the feedback of all the troops. We will pay close attention to this process."
During the evaluation and survey process, the "don't ask, don't tell" law remains in effect, with the risk of investigations and discharges for openly gay service members.