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Today is Tuesday, November 27, 2007


'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Discharges Decrease

According to a report released on Tuesday, the number of gay and lesbian personnel discharged from the U.S. military last year dropped to the lowest level since 1996, suggesting that commanders may have eased enforcement of "don't ask, don't tell" in preparation for war with Iraq.

A total of 906 gay, lesbian and bisexual staff were discharged during fiscal year 2002, down from 1,273 in 2001, said the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) in its annual report on the military's discriminatory policy toward gay personnel. The last time the total was so low was 1996, with 870 dismissals.

The report noted that a decrease in gay discharges is common during times of war. Similar trends were recorded during the Korean, Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars, SLDN said.

"When they need lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans most, military leaders keep us close at hand," said C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of SLDN, in a written statement.

The Washington, D.C.-based network estimates that 10,000 gay personnel may be currently serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which took effect in 1994 under President Clinton, permits gays and lesbians to serve as long as they do not reveal their sexual orientation or engage in homosexual acts.

A Pentagon representative did not respond to calls seeking comment about the decrease in gay discharges.

SLDN said it could not pinpoint specific reasons for the decrease in 2002, but suggested that individual commanders may be increasingly reluctant to pursue gay discharges.

In contrast, some recent incidents indicate the military has not softened its enforcement of "don't ask, don't tell."

Last year, the U.S. Army fired seven gay linguists with Arabic language skills, despite the military's need for such language specialists in the war on terrorism. Osburn said those discharges highlight the "absurdity" of the military's gay ban.

"Even though the Army faced a 50 percent shortfall in trained Arabic linguists, they continue to fire qualified and trained linguists who happen to be gay," he said.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Marines became the first branch of the armed forces to re-issue "stop-loss" orders barring most military discharges, except those related to "don't ask, don't tell."

SLDN also noted that reported incidents of anti-gay harassment declined last year in the U.S. military, to 802 from 1,075 in 2001.

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