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July 18 , 2010

Pentagon criticized for troop survey on DADT repeal

Washington, D.C.--The Pentagon found itself the target of sharp criticism last week after distributing a survey to 400,000 service members about ending �don�t ask, don�t tell.�� Gay civil rights advocates said the poll uses biased language and focuses too much on how soldiers feel about the idea of showering with LGBT troops.

Some of the questions in the survey were leaked to the press, and proponents of ending the military�s �don�t ask, don�t tell� policy said they seemed strongly biased in favor of retaining the gay ban.

One question, for instance, asks, �If don�t ask, don�t tell is repealed and you are working with a service member in your immediate unit who has said he or she is gay or lesbian, how would that affect your own ability to fulfill your mission during combat?�

The 103-question survey also uses the term �homosexual� seven times. Previous studies have shown that the word more often engenders a negative response in surveys than when the terms �gay� and �lesbian� are used.

While some LGBT military advocacy groups urge service members to not participate in the survey for fear of being discharged for being gay, Servicemembers United executive director Alexander Nicholson said, �Servicemembers United encourages all gay and lesbian active duty troops who received the survey to take this important opportunity to provide their views. We especially encourage gay and lesbian troops to take advantage of the opportunity at the end of the survey to participate in a confidential chat about issues related to being gay or lesbian in the U.S. military.�

�While Servicemembers United remains concerned about unintentional bias in the question working within this survey, we are satisfied that sufficient measures are in place to protect the confidentiality of any gay and lesbian servicemember who would like to fully and honestly participate in this survey,� he continued.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell defended the survey in a conference call with members of the press, saying that the questions were developed by the private contractor Westat. He also said that the questions about sleeping arrangements and showers had come up in conversations with troops, so they were included on the survey.

Morrell also said that all seven of the questions that used the term �homosexual� were simple yes-or-no questions, while all of the ones using a five-point scale for the answer used the term �gay or lesbian.�

Unfortunately for Morrell, he had to issue a statement all but retracting one of his answers after LGBT political blogger John Aravosis and others pointed out that Morrell�s reply indicated that the military might segregate gay and lesbian personnel in separate facilities.

Aravosis pointed to the statement, �We think it would be irresponsible to conduct a survey that didn�t try to address these types of things. Because when DADT is repealed, we will have to determine if there are any challenges in those particular areas, any adjustments that need to be made in terms of how we educate the force to handle those situations, or perhaps even facility adjustments that need to be made to deal with those scenarios.�

Morrell told CBS News that his statement referred to things like shower curtains, not separate barracks and showers for gay and lesbian troops.

�No one is talking about segregating gay servicemembers from straight servicemembers,� he said. �We don�t know that any adjustment will have to be made, but in the event that�s a recommendation from the review group, it would not result in any �separate but equal� facilities.�

The survey is part of the Pentagon�s study of DADT repeal, which is due by December. The study was ordered by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as part of the process of repealing the policy, which was one of President Barack Obama�s campaign priorities.

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