SAN FRANCISCO — Women are far more likely than men to be kicked out of the military under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy against gays in uniform, according to government figures released Thursday that critics said reflect deep-seated sexism in the armed forces.
Women accounted for 15 percent of all active-duty and reserve members of the military but more than one-third of the 619 people discharged last year because of their sexual orientation.
The disparity was particularly striking in the Air Force, where women represented 20 percent of all personnel but 61 percent of those expelled. That is a significant jump from the previous year and marks the first time women in any branch of the military constituted a majority of those dismissed under "don't ask, don't tell," researchers said.
Nathaniel Frank, a researcher at the Palm Center, a University of California, Santa Barbara, center specializing in gays and the military, said one partial explanation is that homosexuality is more common among women in the service than among their male comrades.
But Frank and some women who served in the military said the gap could also be a result of "lesbian-baiting" rumors and investigations that arise when women rebuff sexual overtures from male colleagues or do not meet traditional notions of feminine beauty.
"Often times the lesbians under my command were under scrutiny by the same men who were also sexually harassing straight women, so it was this kind of sexist undercurrent of 'You don't belong here,'" said Anuradha Bhagwati, a former Marine who founded the Service Women's Action Network, an advocacy group.
Steve Publicover is a veteran LGBT rights activist and blogger living in the Charlotte, NC area. Steve has an extensive background in public speaking, advocacy and education. Contact him at email@example.com.