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[UPDATE: Please refer to “Questions’ Quagmire” for a full article on this issue, in which the Human Rights Campaign and Palm Center do not take the same position as SLDN on the survey. In addition, at the bottom of this post, please note the Log Cabin Republicans and Servicemembers United statements, which encourage servicemembers to fill out the survey.]
The Department of Defense (DOD) mailed out 400,000 surveys to servicemembers on Wednesday, July 7, with half going to active servicemembers and the other half going to those in reserve units, asking them questions relating to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and how they would react to out gay service.
Since DOD General Counsel Jeh Johnson and U.S. Army Gen. Carter Ham were named by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to head the Pentagon working group that planned the survey, questions have been raised – by members of Congress and leaders of LGBT advocacy groups – about whether the continued enforcement of DADT would impact the response rates of LGB servicemembers.
Although a DOD “American Forces Press Service” report notes that servicemembers will initially have to log in using their common access card, or CAC, to a non-confidential site, they will then have the opportunity to get an “untraceable PIN number they then can use to log on from any computer.”
According to the American Forces Press Service report, “This tool will allow gay and lesbian servicemembers to remain anonymous and establish confidential communication, Ham explained.”
Despite this claimed safeguard, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network – which has long advocated for open service and defended servicemembers threatened with DADT discharges in court – raised a potentially significant roadblock to the working group on Thursday morning, July 8.
“At this time SLDN cannot recommend that lesbian, gay, or bisexual service members participate in any survey being administered by the Department of Defense, the Pentagon Working Group, or any third-party contractors,” SLDN executive director Aubrey Sarvis said in the release statement. “While the surveys are apparently designed to protect the individual’s privacy, there is no guarantee of privacy and DOD has not agreed to provide immunity to service members whose privacy may be inadvertently violated or who inadvertently outs himself or herself.”
SLDN said in the statement that it had sought information from DOD about the “text of the surveys, more information on possible certificates of confidentiality, and whether DOD or [the working group] could guarantee immunity from DADT and other armed services rules and regulations for service members who are inadvertently ‘outed’ by the surveys.”
SLDN spokesman Trevor Thomas wrote in an email to Metro Weekly, “We did not hear back from the Pentagon on the above. We continue to wait for the information so that we can make an informed decision [about whether gay, lesbian and bisexual servicemembers should respond to the survey].”
The American Forces Press Service also reports that Ham said “150,000 surveys will be mailed to military spouses by the end of the month.” Although both Ham and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have discussed the importance of family input, it had not previously been disclosed the specifics and the extent to which the military would be seeking spouses’ opinions. Due to DADT, the “spouses,” it is presumed, only would include opposite-sex spouses.
[UPDATE: From a statement by Servicemembers United executive director Alex Nicholson:
“While Servicemembers United remains concerned about unintentional bias in the question wording within this survey, we are satisfied that sufficient measures are in place to protect the confidentiality of any gay and lesbian servicemember who would like to fully and honestly participate in this survey.”
In addition, Log Cabin’s R. Clarke Cooper said in a statement:
“I am a current Army Reservist and will be completing the DOD survey with my CAC log on. Not doing the survey abdicates terrain to those who want to keep DADT in place.”
Thus far, SLDN is the only LGBT group to urge lesbian, gay and bisexual servicemembers not to fill out the survey.
An inquiry for information from the Pentagon has not been returned.]