Following up on Gabe's post below, the Defense Department's report on repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell is an interesting document, not only for the survey results, but for the perspective they provide. For instance, did you know that in 1948, not only did 80 percent of enlisted men oppose integrating the armed forces, kindly avuncular Dwight Eisenhower testified before Congress that segregation was good for black soldiers, because "In general, the Negro is less educated…and if you make a complete amalgamation, what you are going to have in every company the Negro is going to be relegated to the minor jobs, and he is never going to get his promotion." Ah, the Greatest Generation...
In any case, this undertaking involved not only the survey but lots of research, coupled with many meetings and discussions. This passage is a bit long, but it offers some interesting insight:
In listening to Service members we found a perceptions gap—between the perception of the gay Service member that people know and work with, and the perception of the stereotypical gay individual that people do not know and have never worked with. When Service members talk about a unit member they believe to be gay or lesbian, their assessment of that individual was based on a complete picture and actual experience, including the Service member’s technical and tactical capabilities and other characteristics that contribute to his or her overall effectiveness as a member of the military and as a colleague.
By contrast, when asked about serving with the imagined gay Service member who is "open" about his or her sexual orientation, that feature becomes the predominant if not sole characteristic of the individual, and stereotypes fill in the rest of the picture. Stereotypes motivated many of the comments we heard. The most prevalent concern expressed is that gay men will behave in a stereotypically effeminate manner, while lesbian women are stereotypically painted in masculine” terms. We heard widespread perceptions that, if permitted to be open and honest about their sexual orientation, gay Service members would behave as sexual predators and make unwelcome sexual advances on heterosexuals, gay men would adopt feminine behavior and dress, there would be open and notorious displays of affection in the military environment between same-sex couples, and that repeal would lead to an overall erosion of unit cohesion, morale, and good order and discipline. Based on our review, however, we conclude that these concerns are exaggerated and not consistent with the reported experiences of many Service members.
The perceptions gap we note here is also reflected in the survey data. The data reveals that Service members who are currently serving with someone they believe to be gay or lesbian are less likely to perceive a negative impact of repeal on the key elements of unit task and social cohesion, and unit effectiveness. Conversely, those who have believe they have never served with someone who is gay or lesbian are more likely to perceive a negative impact. Likewise, of Service members who believe they have in their career served in a unit with a co-worker who is gay or lesbian, 92% stated that the unit's "ability to work together" was "very good," "good," or "neither good nor poor."
In short, those who know they've served with someone gay are asking themselves, "How did things work out with Corporal Smith?" while those who don't are probably asking themselves, "What would happen if RuPaul joined my unit?" So it's not surprising they give different answers.
-- Paul Waldman
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