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Military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Policy Targets Women More Than Men

By L.K. Regan

An extensive study of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy has found a potentially surprising effect—that lesbians are much more likely than gay men to be targeted by the policy, which mandates dismissing any personnel discovered to be gay or lesbian, The New York Times reports. The study used information gathered under a Freedom of Information Act request by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a policy advocacy group.

Women make up 14 percent of Army personnel, but represent 46 percent of those dismissed under DADT. Similarly, 20 percent of Air Force personnel are women, but 49 percent of its discharges under DADT were lesbians. These numbers do not gel with discharges in general: in 2006, 35 percent of those discharged from the Army, and 36 percent of those discharged from the Air Force, were women. And, of course, these numbers are themselves skewed by DADT.

Aubrey Sarvis, the Servicemenbers Legal Defense Network's executive director, pointed out that, "Women make up 15 percent of the armed forces, so to find they represent nearly 50 percent of Army and Air Force discharges under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is shocking. Women in particular have been caught in the crosshairs of this counterproductive law."

The armed services dismiss an average of nearly two service members per day under DADT, with 627 dismissals in 2007, up slightly from 612 the year before. Both of these numbers, however, are only about half the averages seen before the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, despite the obvious current stresses on the military, DADT continues to be implemented.

The Army had the highest number of DADT discharges in 2007, shedding 302 soldiers under the policy. This was 22 more than the year before. The Marine Corps was up four from 2006, with 68 DADT discharges. The Navy held steady with 166, while the Air Force was down slightly with 91 dismissals compared to 2006's 102.

The study offered no answers as to why lesbians are targeted more than gay men under DADT—though to ask a question about reason with regard to a discriminatory and arbitrary policy may not be productive anyway. Certainly the policy is itself counter-productive: 41,000 new recruits could be found if the military would end the policy, a study conducted last year for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network concluded.