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Ma'am, Would You
Care for Some Facts With That?

Ma'am, Would You
Care for Some Facts With That?


Judging from her congressional testimony, Elaine Donnelly may be the most strident civilian opponent of lifting "don't ask, don't tell." Too bad her reasons for keeping the policy in place aren't sound.

Elaine Donnelly made quite a name for herself at the "don't ask, don't tell" hearing held by the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel on July 23. A die-hard advocate of minimizing the role of women in the service, Donnelly, the head of the Livonia, Mich.-based Center for Military Readiness, is now arguably the strongest civilian voice for the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. But her testimony before Congress was fairly bizarre -- she warned of an increase in "HIV-positivity" if gay soldiers were allowed to serve openly, and she stated that gay people engage in "passive/aggressive" behavior with heterosexuals -- which provoked a backlash among many of her questioners. Arkansas Democratic congressman Vic Snyder, for one, told Donnelly that her arguments were "just bonkers" and "dumb."

We thought so too, so we checked the facts of four of her main arguments.

Argument 1: Sexual tension caused by gay soldiers will hurt morale and discipline. Ending "don't ask, don't tell," Donnelly argued, would "impose new, unneeded burdens of sexual tension on men and women serving in high-pressure working conditions."

But a 1993 RAND Corp. study concluded that gay military personnel could serve openly without detriment to readiness. Furthermore, male and female soldiers have worked together for years, and the military hasn't collapsed. Helena Carreiras, a sociology professor at Lisbon University in Portugal and author of the book Gender and the Military: Women in the Armed Forces of Western Democracies, says she knows of no studies "that can point to a pattern of problematic situations resulting from the integration of women in the Armed Forces, deriving from sexual tension." And gay and straight soldiers already work side by side -- tension or no tension.

Argument 2: More gay soldiers equals more HIV infections. "Given the officially recognized correlation between homosexual conduct and HIV infection," Donnelly asserted, if "great numbers of men having sex with men are inducted into the military," there would naturally be an increase in infections.

By Donnelly's line of reasoning, as Snyder said at the hearing, "we ought to recruit only lesbians...because they have the lowest incidence of HIV in the country." And if you exclude gay men, shouldn't you also exclude African-Americans? The two groups are the most "at risk" for HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The British military allows gays to serve openly, and according to Craig Jones, a former lieutenant commander in the British navy, there's been no evidence of an increase in HIV rates for frontline troops.

Argument 3: We don't even know how many gay soldiers there are. Donnelly disputed the oft-cited estimate of 65,000 gay men and lesbians currently serving, comparing it to an "urban legend." Her complaint? The estimate that 4% of Americans are gay, lesbian, or bisexual -- from which the soldier figure was derived -- is "speculative." Donnelly also claimed that Gary Gates, a former Urban Institute researcher who arrived at the number, employs "questionable methodology."

The 4% figure was derived from a government-funded survey, says Gates, who submitted written testimony for the hearing. And Gates uses Bayes' Rule for his statistical analyses, "a method taught in virtually every beginning statistics class," he says.

Argument 4: Open service by gays in other countries has been problematic. "Contrary to the notion that all has gone well," Donnelly admonished, "European newspapers have reported recruiting and disciplinary problems in the British military."

Among the five newspaper articles she referenced to support her point was a piece published in 2005 in The Times of London that contains this statement: "Senior officers want to encourage more gay and lesbian sailors, estimated at 2,100, to 'come out,' paving the way for the first openly gay admiral." Maybe Donnelly didn't read the piece?

According to British naval lieutenant commander Craig Jones, "There will always be incidents [involving] racial prejudice or gender issues, things experienced by society. But by and large, integration of gay soldiers has been a hugely positive experience -- and we're a better organization for it."

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