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 website.

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 visible.

“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 with.”

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 as biased.

“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.