Palm Center Director Aaron Belkin released a statement, saying "The new Pentagon survey is part of the agreed-to process of dismantling 'don't ask, don't tell.' Because service members are just now being educated about the ramifications of ending the policy, we anticipate that the survey results will not be supportive of repeal. That said, we welcome the results and value the feedback of all the troops. We will pay close attention to this process."
The first thing that caught my attention as I read the survey was this statement: "Throughout this survey, "gay or lesbian" and "homosexual" are used interchangeably."
The most important factor in any poll is the wording of the questions. A CBS News Poll conducted in February of this year showed that when people are asked for their opinion using the words "gay" or "lesbian", the responses tended to be 10% more favorable than when the word "homosexual" was used in the same question.
For example, when asked if "gays and lesbians" should have the right to serve openly in the military, the results were 70% in favor. When asked if "homosexuals" should be allowed to serve, only 59% were in favor. This subtle distinction is statistically significant and is the primary reason that anti-gay campaigns almost exclusively use "homosexual" in their anti-gay rhetoric. Every reliable polling company should be aware of this distinction. By stating at the outset that these two terms are interchangeable, the Pentagon's working group on repeal has been accused of skewing the survey.
Some specific questions ask about the "perceived" sexual orientation of co-workers, how many people in a unit had the same perception of that coworker and how respondents would feel about sharing bathroom and shower facilities with that coworker.
These are some of the questions I pulled directly from the survey:
Did you ever serve in combat with a Service member of any rank whom you believed to be homosexual?
About how many other members of that combat unit also believed the Service member to be gay or lesbian?
If Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed and you are working with a Service member in your immediate unit who has said he or she is gay or lesbian, how, if at all, would your level of morale be affected?
If Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed and you are working with a Service member in your immediate unit who has said he or she is gay or lesbian, how would that affect your own ability to fulfill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?Fallout from the survey's slanted questions has been swift. The Marine Corps Times reports:
The survey underscores Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ March 2 guidance that the 10-month study on the impact of repeal be carried out in a “thorough and dispassionate” manner, said the Pentagon’s top public affairs official, Assistant Secretary of Defense Douglas Wilson.Aubrey Sarvis of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has cautioned queer service members not to take part in the survey if they receive one, due to concerns over confidentiality. Admiral Mike Mullins, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has stated for the record that there will be no exemptions given to service men and women who volunteer to tell their stories as part of the ongoing study.
At least one advocacy group vehemently disagreed.
“While it remains safe for gay and lesbian troops to participate in this survey, it is simply impossible to imagine a survey with such derogatory and insulting wording, assumptions, and insinuations going out about any other minority group in the military,” said Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United and a former Army interrogator who was discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
“Flawed aspects of the survey include the unnecessary use of terms that are known to be inflammatory and bias-inducing in social science research, such as the clinical term ‘homosexual’; an overwhelming focus on the potential negative aspects of repeal and little or no inclusion of the potential positive aspects of repeal or the negative aspects of the current policy; the repeated and unusual suggestion that a co-worker or leader might need to ‘discuss’ appropriate behavior and conduct with gay and lesbian troops,” he said.
Reuters reports that the Pentagon is rejecting accusations of bias. "Absolutely, unequivocally, I reject (the accusations of bias) as nonsense," said Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell.
The Palm Center's Belkin counters, "Why would you ask those questions unless you thought there was something potentially wrong with (that group)? You would never have a survey asking: Would you share a shower with a Catholic soldier?"