GAO Report: 322 Gay Language Specialists Fired

Lane laneonline at
Wed Aug 9 17:27:19 UTC 2006

A bit old, but still relevant.
-Lane Igoudin, MA, PhD

Gays' ouster seen leaving gap in military
By Bryan Bender, Globe Staff
The Boston Globe
February 24, 2005

WASHINGTON -- More than 300 foreign language
specialists considered critical in the war on
terrorism have been forced out of the military in the
past decade because of their sexual orientation,
according to the first government study to assess both
the warfighting and financial impact of the "Don't
Ask, Don't Tell" policy that prohibits openly gay

These soldiers had "some skills in an important
foreign language such as Arabic, Farsi, and Korean,"
according to a report by the Government Accountability
Office to be published next month. At least 54 of the
322 language specialists spoke Arabic -- more than
twice as many as previous estimates. At the same time,
more than 400 additional soldiers discharged under the
policy had what the Pentagon considers "critical
occupations," including Navy code-breakers, Army
intelligence specialists and interrogators, Air Force
air traffic controllers, and Marine Corps
counterintelligence specialists.

While some of those dismissed from the military had
taken advanced language courses, the report said that
many of them had just begun their training.

According to the report, a copy of which was obtained
by the Globe, a total of 9,488 soldiers have been
discharged since 1993 for being gay, lesbian, or
bisexual, and it has cost at least $200 million to
recruit and train replacements. It said the taxpayer
burden is probably much higher because the analysis
did not include other costs also associated with the
ban on gays and lesbians -- including the impact on
the National Guard, Reserve, and Coast Guard -- or the
investigation and counseling of service members
believed to be gay and other administrative expenses
related to removing them.

In a written response to the findings, the Department
of Defense maintained that despite the loss of
critical skills because of the ban on gays and
lesbians, the military has dismissed far more service
members since 1993 for other reasons. David Chu,
defense undersecretary for personnel, said that there
had been a "low discharge rate" under the Don't Ask,
Don't Tell policy.

Nevertheless, critics of the policy said the report --
the government's first assessment since the policy was
adopted in November 1993 -- underscores how the ban on
gays and lesbians is hurting military readiness when
the armed forces are already stretched thin and
finding it difficult to recruit skilled personnel.

"The conventional justification for Don't Ask, Don't
Tell has been that allowing gays to serve undermines
military readiness," US Representative Martin T.
Meehan, a Lowell Democrat and member of the Armed
Services Committee, told the Globe in a statement
yesterday. "Now we have the numbers to prove that the
policy itself is undermining our military readiness."

The sheer number of linguists the military discharged
took some specialists by surprise, given that the
Pentagon urgently needs service members with those

"That really expands on what scholars knew before,"
said Aaron Belkin, director of the Center for the
Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military at the
University of California at Santa Barbara, which
released its own study of the issue last year. He said
previous figures showed only 20 Arabic speakers had
been discharged for being gay, while the Government
Accountability Office report indicates the number is
more than double that.

"They fired a huge percentage of the talent pool just
for being gay," Belkin said yesterday.

The UCSB center was the first to report that nearly
10,000 soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen were
ordered out of the military under the ban, taking with
them many of the same skills that are now in short
supply. The study by the Government Accountability
Office, which is the investigative arm of Congress, is
the first detailed examination of the effects of the
ban on gays in the military and the related costs.

Gay and lesbian conduct has long been prohibited under
military law. But in 1993, after campaigning on a
promise to lift the controversial ban, President
Clinton reached a compromise with Congress. The new
policy, passed into law in November 1993, held that
gays and lesbians could serve in uniform as long as
they kept their sexual orientation to themselves and
their personal conduct did not alert their superiors.

The Pentagon maintains that the number of discharges
has steadily declined since 1993. Last week the
Defense Department revealed that 653 gays were
dismissed from the military in 2004, the second-lowest
number in two decades and roughly half the average
yearly totals during the late 1990s. And Chu, after
reviewing the findings, said that service members
discharged from the military on grounds of
homosexuality represent less than 1 percent of the
total number of members kicked out for all reasons,
including pregnancy, failure to meet weight standards,
drug use, or other serious offenses.

Still, the study found that of the nearly 10,000
service members "separated" under the policy, about 8
percent were filling jobs considered among the most
important to the military, making them eligible for
bonuses up to $60,000 if they reenlist. Linguists made
up nearly half. The rest were mechanics, technicians
analysts, missile operators, flight engineers, and a
variety of other highly trained personnel, the report

Approximately 757 out of 9,488 soldiers discharged for
being gay between fiscal years 1994 and 2003 were
trained in "critical occupations, identified by [the
Department of Defense] as those occupations worthy of
selective reenlistment bonuses," according to the

At the same time, the Government Accountability
Office, attempting to put a price on the effects of
the policy, concluded that the armed forces have spent
about $95 million over the last decade "to recruit
replacements for service members separated under this
policy." In addition, it estimated that approximately
$95 million more was spent to train those replacements
in the particular skill sets lost as a result.

The report cautioned, however, that the financial
estimates were incomplete and did not include all the
probable costs incurred by the military as a result of
the ban on gays and lesbians. The Marine Corps, for
example, could not estimate training costs, the
Pentagon provided data only on active-duty service
members discharged for being gay, and other
administrative and other costs could not be tallied.

"There are still questions about the true financial
cost of the ban," said Belkin.

Meehan, who is considering proposing a bill to repeal
the law, said two things are made clear in the report.
"By discharging competent service members at a time
when our troops are already stretched thin, the Don't
Ask, Don't Tell policy incurs hundreds of millions of
dollars in unnecessary costs and purges highly
skilled, critical personnel from the service," he said
in his statement.

Bender can be reached at bender at 

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