‘What Would You Do If a Gay or Lesbian Were In Your Shower?’ and Other Pentagon Survey Questions

By Alex Pepper

Jul 9, 2010 12:52pm

“If Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed and you are assigned to bathroom facilities with an open bay shower that someone you believe to be a gay or lesbian Service member also used, which are you most likely to do? Mark 1.”

So asks the Pentagon survey of 400,000 non-deployed active troops regarding the pending repeal of the “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.

The choices:

“Take no action;

“Use the shower at a different time than the Service member I thought to be gay or lesbian;

“Discuss how we expect each other to behave and conduct ourselves;

“Talk to a chaplain, mentor, or leader about how to handle the situation;

“Talk to a leader to see if I had other options;

“Something else;

“Don’t know.”

The advocacy group Servicemembers United has obtained a copy of the Pentagon survey, which can be read HERE. And its members don’t like it.

Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United and a former Army interrogator discharged under DADT, says in a statement that it will be “safe for gay and lesbian troops to participate in this survey” but “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.”

Nicholson says the 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.”

Interestingly, though the White House has repeatedly declared that DADT will be repealed — and the only question is when that will happen — the survey repeatedly phrases its questions in terms of “if” the repeal happens.

Another question asks troops “If Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed and you had onbase housing and a gay or lesbian Service member was living with a same sex partner onbase, what would you most likely do?” Options range from “I would get to know them like any other neighbors” to “I would probably move offbase.”

Yet another asks, if DADT is repealed “and a gay or lesbian Service member attended a military social function with a same sex partner, which are you most likely to do?” With options ranging from “Continue to attend military social functions” to “Stop attending military social functions.”

I’ve asked the Pentagon to respond, and I’ve asked Nicholson to explain which questions he found most biased and derogatory, and I’ll be updating this blog post when they get back to me.

- Jake Tapper

UPDATE: Servicemembers United got back to me as to its issues with the survey:

• Despite the explanatory statement at the beginning of one section of the survey that “gay or lesbian” and homosexual” are used interchangeably, the group asserts that “it is a well established fact that the use of the term ‘homosexual’ induces bias in survey research. Use of this clinical term is also considered offensive to gays and lesbians.”

• In questions about how the belief that a coworker was gay or lesbian impacted the unit’s morale, the “question and its accompanying answer choices assume and suggest a negative impact on
morale. No options are given to express a belief in a positive impact on morale.”

• The survey says that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” “generally requires that a Service member shall be separated if found to have engaged in, or attempted to engage in, homosexual acts.” The group says that summary of the law is wrong. “Opponents often try to characterize the policy as preventing the open and public performance of homosexual acts, and this summary is in that vein. The biggest problem with the DADT law is that a Service member can be fired for simply saying ‘I’m gay,’ without ever engaging in, or attempting to engage in, a ‘homosexual act.’”

The group believes that summary also “implies that the repeal of this law will result in the open performance of ‘homosexual acts’ on duty and throughout the military,” which it says is not only wrong, but “highly inflammatory.”

• The survey asks how belief that a coworker is gay or lesbian might impact a troop’s or a unit’s readiness? “Impact on readiness is more of an abstract concept that needs to be further operationalized in order to be accurately measured. Not only is this term not sufficiently operationalized, the survey makes no attempt to even define what readiness means.”

• The group says that the question about how repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell might “affect your willingness to recommend to a family member or close friend that he or she join the military?” is “highly offensive and unnecessary. Would such a question every be allowed to be asked about blacks, women, Muslims, Mormons, or any other minority group?”

• The question about how DADT repeal “might affect your military career plans” is one that “has well known bias,” the group says, “because, among other reasons, it offers an opportunity to make a values statement for which the respondent is never accountable. Before the equivalent policy was changed within the armed forces of the United Kingdom, nearly two-thirds of males said they would leave the military. After the policy change was made, however, only one person resigned across the entire force, and even this officer is said to have been ready to retire regardless.”

• The group says questions about sharing a room, berth, or field tent “with someone you believe to be a gay or lesbian Service member” are considered highly inflammatory. “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.”

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