The U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which prohibits openly homosexual people from serving in the military, is facing opposition according to evidence from a UCSB poll.
According to the December Zogby International poll, created by the UCSB Michael D. Palm Center, 73 percent of servicemen and women feel comfortable working with gays in the military. The survey of 545 military personnel who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan was conducted between Dec. 24 and 26.
Along with revealing a shift in troop attitudes, the results of the study spurred Gen. John Shalikashvili, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1993 through 1997, to publish an op-ed in the New York Times on Jan. 2 calling for an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Political science professor Aaron Belkin, director of the center, said the new report indicates that the policy, created in 1993, is no longer relevant, as it was originally put in place because its drafters – including Gen. Colin Powell – believed allowing homosexuals to openly serve threatened troop morale.
“It shows that old arguments of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy are no longer valued,” Belkin said.
Of the 20 percent of those polled who are not comfortable with gays in the military, Belkin said that 15 percent are “somewhat” uncomfortable, while 5 percent are “very” uncomfortable.
Aside from level of comfort, the online interview asked both veterans as well as those currently serving in the military various other questions regarding their views of gays and lesbians in the military. The report included questions such as whether servicemen or women agreed or disagreed with permitting gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. Of those surveyed, 37 percent opposed allowing gays to serve openly, while 26 percent said they should be allowed and 37 percent said were unsure or neutral.
“The data show that when people know and work with openly gay and lesbian colleagues, they do become more accepting of homosexuality,” Belkin said.
The online interview also asked participants whether sexual orientation influences morale and unit cohesion. The poll indicated that 66 percent of service members believe that the presence of gay and lesbian people in the unit has no impact on personal or group morale.
Belkin said the Michael D. Palm Center uses various research methods to inform the public of controversial social issues, enabling policy outcomes to be informed by evidence in lieu of emotion.
“We do research, we’re not a lobby group,” Belkin said. “We make sure that the debate is informed on the basis of data.”