Civil Rights

Don't Ask, Yet

Gays in combat.

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The Pentagon has long argued that the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which prevents openly gay soldiers from serving in the U.S. armed forces, is necessary to preserve unit cohesion. But in wartime–when cohesion matters most–the military may be happy to wink at gay soldiers if that will keep troops in the field.

In September researchers at the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military at the University of California, Santa Barbara, noticed a section of the Reserve Component Unit Commander's Handbook that provides for the postponement of discharge for homosexual soldiers whose units are due to be mobilized. U.S. Army spokesperson Kim Waldron told The Washington Blade: "The bottom line is some people are using sexual orientation to avoid deployment. So in this case, with the Reserve and Guard forces, if a soldier 'tells,' they still have to go to war and the homosexual issue is postponed until they return to the U.S. and the unit is demobilized."

The imperative to keep troops ready for deployment shows up in historically low levels of expulsion of homosexual soldiers from the military during wartime. According to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, discharges under "don't ask, don't tell" have been falling precipitously since the 2001 peak, falling in 2004 to the lowest level in a decade.?