Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Review: "The Efficacy of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'"

For those interested in the debate about gays and lesbians serving in the military, Colonel Om Prakash, USAF, wrote a thoughtful, exemplary piece published in Joint Force Quarterly called "The Efficacy of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'" [PDF]. (All citations taken from this article, unless otherwise noted).

What I appreciated about this article was that it generally eschewed emotional arguments, acknowledged relevant scientific research, and treated both sides fairly while coming to a reasonable conclusion. Further, while Prakash ultimately concludes that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" should be repealed, in doing so he honestly conceded shortcomings on the "pro-gay" side. Reading it, I didn't get the impression that I was reading the writing of someone who's mind was set in stone on the issue long ago. I mean, some people are just so heavy-handed in letting their "ick-factor" shine that it's clear that the person will never be persuaded by reason and logic. Rather, reading Prakash's article was like being a fly on the wall and watching a logical, open-minded person's thought process unfold.

After first relaying the history, origins, and rationale of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the associated financial and personnel losses to our nation because of it, Prakash examines the primary premise of the law- "that open homosexuality will lead to a disruption of unit cohesion and impact combat effectiveness." Addressing this issue, Prakash cited the Rand Research Brief, whose research review team concluded that, with respect to unit cohesion, "it is not necessary to like someone to work with him or her, so long as members share a commitment to the group's objectives." Furthermore, while the presence of open gays and lesbians may affect social cohesion (the "emotional bonds within a group"), it would not affect task cohesion ("a shared commitment and motivation of the group to a goal requiring a collective effort").

Prakash then addresses the issue of whether homosexuality is immutable, only because courts traditionally offer a higher level of protection based on characteristics that are innate and immutable. Honestly conceding that research has yet to offer a definite conclusion on this issue, he acknowledges that sexual orientation is probably a "complex interaction of multiple factors" and that the issue is "further complicated by individual identification of sexual orientation." As such, I find Prakash's conclusion, that the issue of whether homosexuality is immutable could be treated as irrelevant, to be a practical way to move forward and decide the debate based on what we do know. Namely, that homosexuality does not affect task cohesion no matter how icky people think homosexuality is.

Statistics of note that undermine the argument that homosexuality affects unit cohesion are that, currently, it is estimated that 65,000 gays and lesbians are serving in the military with 23% of servicemembers reporting that they are "certain that they are serving with a homosexual in their unit." Furthermore, statistics from countries that lifted bans demonstrated that lifting the ban "had no impact on military performance, readiness, cohesion, or ability to recruit or retain, nor did it increase the HIV rate among troops."

Acknowledging that guaranteeing privacy with respect to living conditions could become "complicated," Prakash argues that given the relatively small numbers of homosexuals in the military this would not lead to "a collapse of morale and discipline." I know that some, like the ridiculous Elaine Donnelly who warns of 'transgenders in the military' and gangs of lesbians roaming the showers for prey, have convinced themselves and others that Homasexuls Cannot Possibly Live With Straight People Without Assaulting Them.

Yet, I have more confidence in our military (and in LGBT people!) than that. There may prove to complications, perhaps mostly related to some servicemembers' discomfort with bunking next to a known gay, but I don't think such complications are insurmountable. Rather, they could be overcome by, as Prakash suggests, upgrades in forms and facilities and updating sexual harassment and sensitivity trainings. Tangible solutions exist for tangible issues. If the burdens of overcoming logistical challenges are too much, well, goddess save our country if all that stands between civilization and chaos is the Traumatic Experience of having to shower next to a gay person. (Sidebar: Sometimes, straight people are so self-flattering if they think we all are just pining away to get to shower with them and stare at their naked bodies).

Anyway, to end, Prakash concludes: "Based on this research, it is not time for the administration to re-examine the issue; rather, it is time for the administration to examine how to implement the repeal of the ban."

Mr. Obama, Fierce Advocate, it is your move.

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