Yesterday, researchers from the UCSB Palm Center revealed through Pentagon data that the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy — which punishes gay members of the military for disclosing their sexual preferences — has a disproportionately larger impact on women in the armed services.
The 1993 policy — which has led to the discharge of about 13,000 service members thus far — states that homosexual men and women in the military cannot be investigated or punished as long as they keep their sexual orientation a secret, although they can be discharged for coming out. According to a Palm Center press release, although women only constitute 15 percent of all active-duty and reserve members of the military, over 30 percent of the people discharged last year based on their sexual orientation were female.
The Palm Center is an academic research institute based at UCSB that has spent a portion of its efforts for the past decade researching sexual minorities in the military and is responsible for the publication of numerous academic articles in leading social science journals on the topic.
The research highlighted by the Center yesterday flagged the Air Force as particularly disparate. In fact, 61 percent of last year’s discharges under the policy were women, despite making up only 20 percent of the base’s personnel.
Dr. Nathaniel Frank of the Palm Center said the government will soon realize that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy adopted by the military is not only ineffective, but detrimental to its progress.
“In the military, people across the ranks are coming forward and saying this policy isn’t working,” Frank said. “The Pentagon published an essay contest winner just last week in the flagship journal that condemned the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy and said that it’s time to get rid of it. I think this shows that we’ve reached a tipping point. They didn’t used to want to talk about it at all and that says a lot.”
Additionally, Assistant Director of the Palm Center Indra Lusero said their research sheds light on atrocities that are taking place under the protection of the policy.
“This research is important because it suggests that the costs of [the ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy] are broad and have detrimental effects beyond loss of personnel,” Lusero said. “The data itself is stark, but what is even more frustrating is that we don’t have good answers to explain it. The [‘don’t ask don’t tell’] policy itself is a barrier to good information. We don’t know why women are disproportionately discharged under [the ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy] or why violence against women remains prevalent in the military, or if there is a connection.”
Frank said he is optimistic that change is inevitable.
“I have hope,” Frank said. “It’s going to change, but the question is when. There are still a lot of political stars that have to fall into place, but it’s only a matter of time.”