December 17, 2010

Behind the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Survey

new sallyBy Sally Raskoff

The Department of Defense recently released the results of their study of what would happen if the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy were repealed. While you might have an opinion about this policy, it’s always a good idea to read the research yourself; it is fascinating if you read it carefully! I have included page numbers here in case you want to find the information in the report on your own.

They gathered a lot of data from different sources using different methods to create, as they acknowledge, one of the largest surveys in the history of the military (page 1). For the data, they “solicited the views of nearly 400,000” service members and over 150,000 spouses, netting responses from 114,052 and 44,266 respectively, a tremendous sample size for any survey.

They also set up online access for sharing opinions through which they received 72,384 responses. Ninety-five “information exchange forums” at 51 bases and installations prompted interaction with over 24,000 service members. Focus groups (140) and interviews with people in leadership positions, relevant groups, foreign military representatives, and of gay and lesbian current and former service members rounded out the data collection. Additionally, RAND corporation, a research institution advising on policy issues, also conducted a study of military personnel and sexual orientation, updating an older study they had done in 1993.

That is a lot of data to amass! Because the research was based on stratified random sampling, data can be accurately generalized to the entire military population. The total number of people on active duty in the U.S. military is almost 1.5 million, so they attempted to survey about a third of that group.

Service members were sampled according to military service, active/reserve components, pay grade, military occupation, deployment status, location, gender, and family status. The sampling plan also called for an over-sampling of certain sub-groups (e.g., enlisted service members at the grade of E1–E3) who in recent Department of Defense surveys tended to have lower response rates than the overall military population. This combination of stratification and selected over-sampling was intended to ensure that survey responses were as representative of the force as possible. (Page 36)

The results of the study surprised many, because the overwhelming pattern is one of support for (or at least neutrality about) repealing the policy and allowing gay and lesbian people to serve openly. This mirrors public support for either repealing DADT and/or allowing gay and lesbian people to serve openly in the military, as the graph below details. 


Many responses pointed out that people already know of other service members who are gay or lesbian (69%) and that knowing this doesn’t affect their readiness or work life (92%). The largest differences come in the Marine Corps, among various combat groups, and among chaplains, none of which is surprising.

The emphasis on masculine culture is at its strongest in combat, thus tolerance for homosexuality is, by definition, at its lowest. Hegemonic masculinity requires heterosexuality, since male power depends on dominating others, including females, and homosexuality subverts that norm. Chaplains who are most likely to oppose the repeal of DADT tend to be affiliated with denominations that believe that homosexuality is a sin, thus the chaplains would have trouble counseling gay and lesbian soldiers.

However, if DADT were repealed, what would change? Since gay and lesbian people are already in the service, the largest change will be that they cannot be discharged if their sexual orientation were discovered or revealed.

The photo below depicts, from left to right: Brigadier General Keith Kerr, Brigadier General Virgil Richard, Congressman Meehan, Rear Admiral Alan Steinman, Brigadier General Evelyn Foote and C. Dixon Osburn, Executive Director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. At this meeting in 2003, Kerr, Richard, and Steinman, all retired high-ranking officers, disclosed that they are gay and discussed the problems within the DADT policy.

 File:Congressman Marty Meehan joined by retired flag officers interested in repealling DADT.jpg

The DADT report mentions that any problems or fears that people hold rest are the result of stereotypes, not realities. The problems for Marines and combat groups should be seen in the context that these are military units whose directives are to follow orders and behave in accordance with established standards. The report clearly mentions that any violation of such standards should be met with swift justice.

As a former member of the military, I clearly remember the days in basic training when you are taught basic rules, customs, and courtesies. Although I was a female service member in a recently integrated force, it was clear that job number one was following the orders of the day even if one didn’t understand them or agree with them. Thus if a policy existed, it was adhered to.

The authors also acknowledge that previous integrations by race and gender were ultimately successful even when such policy changes were met with more hostility and resistance than this report indicates the repeal of DADT would be. Much as ”unprofessional” relationships were feared, especially with gender integration, the fact remains that there are already policies against such fraternization and those policies apply to any relationships, not just to those specifically heterosexual or homosexual.

The dilemma with DADT is that it is in conflict with existing norms and policies of honesty and integrity, since it asks people to hide who they are, even if their identity has nothing to do with military readiness.

The study doesn’t spend much time on age differences (see page 59, focus group data), although some findings did suggest that the different age cohorts would have different opinions about this issue. Younger younger people tend to be less homophobic than older people, for example. DADT_Fig1[1]

The report’s Figure 1, pictured above, clearly shows the greatest challenges will be in social cohesion, although the “risk” level is not very high. Previous efforts to integrate the military suggest that training and education can help the troops meet this challenge.

Without DADT, military life will continue to parallel civilian life in that some gay and lesbian people will be “out” while others will not be. Looking at the survey data, one might guess that in the Marines and in combat units especially, anyone who is gay or lesbian will remain quiet about their personal life. Just as many gay and lesbian pro athletes remain quiet until they retire, since military life is rooted in also traditional notions of gender, many Marines and soldiers in combat units may still wait to come out even if DADT is repealed. What other occupations may be linked with traditional ideas about gender and sexuality?


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I dont think it should matter if they are gay or lesbian, they are fighting for our country. I dont see any of the people complaining about it doing what they do. They are respectful and willing to do what most wont.

If someone is willing to serve in the army for our country, trying to keep us safe it shouldn't matter if they are gay or lesbian they are protect there families, there friends, and even the people who dislike them.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. The whole thing seems ridiculous to me. We spend so much time on wasteful issues like his when there are so many other bigger issues out there. We need to focus on what really matters. Let people be themselves,they are who they are. Move on. It is stupid how much importance we place on this. If they dont like the policy? Dont serve. Easy as that.

What a great amount of people for a survey. Having different age groups helps alot to. Never heard of a survey bigger than this!

It shouldn't matter what their sexual orientation is, it should only matter that there are people willing to give up their home lives to go and fight for our country! Instead of throwing a fit if they are gay, lesbian, or straight we should be smiling, saying thank you to them. Doing this survey to this repealed was one of the best things to do.

This survey was a great way to get genuine opinions of all the people out there. I didn't realize just how large of a survey this really was. I'm in an online Sociology course currently and we are learning about how to conduct an accurate survey. This definitely gave me insight as to how much effort goes in to a survey this important!

I found this article useful in a paper I am writing at university. Hopefully, I get an A+ now!

The new findings are based on a matter in which Americans were asked whether they would vote for or against various proposals lawmakers are currently considering.

A great post. Keep update! I've subscribed your blog!

The survey that they did sounds like it was very reliable and most could count on the information that was in it. It suveyed people from all different classes in the military and they tried ti get al least 1/3 of the population in the military included in this. The test was a well examined one.

The fact that a man or women is gay or lesbian should not affect the fact that they have chosen to fight for our country. The fact that the surveys were sent electronically and through air mail is very interesting. It increases the chance of receiving results. I find the quantitative data to be very interesting and helpful in the understanding of the results. The fact that this survey is the largest in the history of the military also shows that it is a topic that is very big in the minds of many, or holds importance in the lives of others. Very useful and factual article! I really enjoyed it. It is helping me in my online sociology class with the topic of surveys and qualitative vs. quantitative data.

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