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Alexander Nicholson, Executive Director of Servicemembers United

Yesterday, gay and lesbian advocates took sharp aim at the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" survey the Pentagon finally made available on Wednesday to 400,000 troops. Alexander Nicholson, Executive Director of Servicemembers United said:

"It is simply impossible to imagine a survey with such derogatory and insulting wording, assumptions, and insinuations going out about any other minority group in the military."

Many more media outlets, LGBT and not, and advocacy groups agreed, questioning a wide range of the survey's language, framing and subjects. The Pentagon quickly switched to damage control, hastily convening a press conference to address those concerns.

Nicholson released a statement to the press:

"This expensive survey stokes the fires of homophobia by its very design and will only make the Pentagon’s responsibility to subdue homophobia as part of this inevitable policy change even harder."

Nicholson and others criticized the use of the word "homosexual," which has been shown in polling to inhibit support for LGBT issues when used instead of "gay and lesbian." [psychodrew also says the APA has decided to its use from publications.] From a recent CBS poll on the issue of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which tested this by polling the same question using both terms:

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Nicholson's accompanying memo (pdf) also closely examined specific areas and language his organization felt exhibited framing bias, and push-poll tactics. They called out this question as representative of a handful of others:

If Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed and you are assigned to share a room, berth or field tent with someone you believe to be a gay or lesbian Service member, which are you most likely to do? Mark 1.

1. Take no action
2. Discuss how we expect each other to behave and conduct ourselves while sharing a room, berth or field tent
3. Talk to a chaplain, mentor, or leader about how to handle the situation
4. Talk to a leader to see if I have other options
5. Something else
6. Don't know

Nicholson explains:

The real atrocity in these questions, which are some of the worse in the entire survey, lies in the answer choices, especially "Discuss how we expect each other to behave and conduct ourselves while sharing a room, berth, or field tent." The fact that this is even an answer choice legitimizes the completely irrational assumption or fear that gays and lesbians need to be "talked to" about their behavior and conduct, lest they misbehave by default. Also the suggestion that someone may need to "talk to a chaplain, mentor, or leader about how to handle the situation" is highly offensive. No survey would ever be allowed to get away with suggesting or implying such things about any other minority.

 title=Attempting to mitigate damage to the study's credibility, a press conference was held Friday afternoon by Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell. The spokesman expressed that the Pentagon was "discouraged" that the questions were leaked and had hoped they'd remain confidential. He conceded the questionnaire is not scientific. He did, however, defend the survey against the criticism of bias and homophobia, calling it "nonsense" and saying, "This is the work of an incredibly respected, professional survey organization." The organization in question being Westat Corporation which has been paid a reportedly $4.5 million dollars to conduct the survey on behalf of the Pentagon.

Morrell called the media coverage of this story "inflammatory." Though less impassioned in its rhetorical choices than Nicholson, Salon also posted a piece that took swipes at the not-to-subtle homophobic framing bias throughout the survey. Morrell singled out the outlet out for criticism, taking particular umbrage at their choice of  headline:

"Pentagon asks troops how gross it would be to shower with a gay person"

Megan Carpenter writing for Talking Points Memo (Pentagon Survey On Don't Ask Don't Tell Now Available: Raises Questions About Pentagon Priorities) deftly points out that of the 103 question survey there are endless questions that work from the pretext of problems associated with repealing the policy, and assume resistance. There are, however, no questions that addressed the potential ill-effects of the policy itself. None explore what effect discrimination that targets troops for investigation and harassment might have on morale and unit cohesion.

Morrell was confronted by Chris Geidner of MetroWeekly on that exact point:

His only response when asked by Metro Weekly why there appeared to be no questions regarding the current impact of DADT and DADT-related discharges on troops’ morale and unit cohesion was, "I don’t know. I’m sure there’s a good explanation. We’ll try to get it for you. I don’t know."

Mike Riley writing in the Denver Post, reports active duty gay service members he spoke with are skeptical about what is the true goal of the study:

"The survey is going to be turned into a weapon to show how it's going to affect morale," said an active-duty Air Force officer and a member of Citizens For Repeal, which represents several hundred gays and lesbians now in the ranks, many of them from the military's elite service academies.

Riley does include a point of optimism for LGB troops, which still underscores the folly of this $4.5 million push-poll:

The officer said he had already seen several chain e-mails mocking the survey's language and questions. He also said several groups asked to provide input on the survey before it was released but were turned down.

"It's being made fun of," the officer said. "The reaction to the survey from the troop level is showing how out of touch leadership is from the subject."

In a follow up report on the press conference, TPM's Carpenter wrote:

When quizzed about the development of the survey questions, Morrell admitted that they didn't consult with advocacy groups about the design of the survey, leaving that to the professionals at Westat, the private contractor who developed the questions in consultation with the Pentagon and working group.

Why LGBT servicemembers advocacy groups were not consulted is a mystery. Certainly Joint Chief Mike Mullen's attention was drawn by Senator Claire McCaskill as far back as February about the problems incumbent on getting an LGBT perspective on this issue. From the DADT Senate hearings:

McCaskill: "Here's my problem, we now have established we have gays and lesbian Americans serving in the military, that they are not broadly causing any broad disciplinary or moral problems, that we welcome their service.

The issue is not whether or not we have gays and lesbians serving in the military, it's whether or not we talk about it. So, how are you going to get their input in this survey?"

Mullen:
"Well, actually, I mean, my take on that is..., hang on a second... [long pause] um... It think we would have to look very carefully at how we would do that."

Mullen may have "looked very carefully at it," but it's clear the Working Group has failed miserably to address this issue with an inclusive eye.

While the standing policy of DADT presents a serious impediment to including LGB perspective, the Veteran community is rich with people who have had one boot in each world who are under no obligation to be silent. But, despite requests to be forwarded an advance copy of the survey, Westat and the Pentagon declined to bring leading LGBT/DADT advocacy group Servicemembers Legal Defense Network into the fold, declining the opportunity to use of their consulting expertise. Likewise, Citizens for Repeal reports requests to review the questionnaire in advance of its release were refused by the Pentagon.

From the Servicemembers United statement (PDF):

Servicemembers United received several confidential reports during the drafting and revision of this survey that the survey was potentially being skewed in an unfavorable direction through flawed design. Servicemembers United raised these concerns with the Comprehensive Review Working Group on multiple occasions and repeatedly asked to view and provide feedback on the survey while it was being drafted.

The opportunity to lend our extensive experience and expertise in talking about this issue with conservative audiences, including active duty troops, was denied. A request to the Comprehensive Review Working Group to view a copy of the survey question after the survey had been released was also denied.

Even the usually upbeat Human Rights Campaign Fund, who showed such enthusiasm for the compromise and repeal process just months ago, is described as having a "tepid support" for the survey in the Washington Post:

"While surveying the troops on an issue like this is problematic from the start and the questions exhibit clear bias, the fact remains that this study exists," said HRC spokesman Michael Cole. "We urge the department to analyze the results with an understanding of the inherent bias in the questions and use it as a tool to implement open service quickly and smoothly."

Good faith has been extended to the Pentagon by these groups, on behalf of all LGB servicemembers. It is a shame the Pentagon is not meeting good faith with good faith.

 title=
Corporal Brett Edward Stout was a Russian cryptologic linguist and weapons marksmanship intstructor. In 2002, he was honorably discharged from the United States Marine Corps. Portrait from Proud to Serve, a photography project by Brooklyn photographer, Jo Ann Santangelo. She is currently planning a tour to photograph more LGBT Veterans, learn more.

Update 1:
If you'd like to see the survey for yourself, it is linked here (PDF). Thanks to Mother of Zeus for that suggestion.

Update 2: Repeal advocate and posterboy Lt. Dan Choi weighed in on Twitter last night offering this:

Pentagon #DADT survey is a putrid stain on the morality of America. History will not forgive.

Don't mince words, tell us how you really feel, Lt.

Originally posted to Scott Wooledge on Sat Jul 10, 2010 at 09:33 AM PDT.

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