The Pentagon hit back Friday at
accusations that its “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” survey is biased
against gay troops.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell
rejected the accusations in a call with reporters.
“Absolutely, unequivocally, I reject
[the accusations of bias] as nonsense,” Morrell said.
Leading groups lobbying for repeal of
the policy that forbids gay troops from serving openly had blasted
the $4.5 million survey as “insulting” and “derogatory.”
“This expensive survey stokes the
fires of homophobia by its very design and will only make the
Pentagon responsibility to subdue homophobia as part of this
inevitable policy change even harder,” Alexander Nicholson,
executive director of Servicemembers United, said on the group's
The Department of Defense announced
Wednesday that it was recruiting 400,000 service members to answer
103 questions related to the policy, including how heterosexual
members would react in various social situations if gay troops were
“We think it would be irresponsible
to conduct a survey that didn't address these kinds of [social]
questions,” Morrell said.
Gay groups have blasted questions that
ask service members how they feel about sharing bathing facilities
and living quarters with gay men and lesbians.
For example, one question asks how a
service member would react if he or she was asked to share showering
facilities with someone believed to be gay or lesbian during a
wartime situation. Responses range from take no action to discussing
how service members are expected to behave in such situations and
speaking to a leader or chaplain about other options. Critics say
the question suggests gay troops need to be lectured to.
Other problems, critics say, include
the survey's use of the outmoded word “homosexual” to describe
gay men and lesbians, and its overwhelming focus on the potential
drawbacks of repeal.
Morrell conceded that the word
“homosexual” has a negative connotation but defended its use.
“We are well aware that 'homosexual'
is a loaded term, but it is a term that is in the law and policy,”
he said in answering a question from gay glossy The Advocate.
“And it is a term that most people in our forces are familiar
The Servicemembers Legal Defense
Network (SLDN), the nation's largest group lobbying for repeal,
warned Friday that gay and lesbian personnel could be placing
themselves at risk of violating the policy by taking the survey.
“At this time, our warning stands
that gay and lesbian service members should not take the survey
unless adequate legal protections are put in place,” Aubrey Sarvis,
executive director of SLDN, said.
Sarvis joined in criticizing the survey
“No one should be surprised if a
number of prejudices come to light in these surveys,” he said.
The survey is part of the military's
comprehensive review of “Don't Ask, Don't Tell,” the law approved
by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. Under a
last-minute deal brokered by gay groups and Democratic leaders, the
review will continue even as Congress debates repeal of the law.