The Department of Defense issued its survey on gays in the military to 400,000 servicemembers earlier this month.
The survey is part of the Pentagon’s study on a potential repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the policy that bans gays from serving openly in the Armed Forces.
The U.S. House voted for a repeal and the Senate is expected to vote on the issue later this summer. A provision in the legislative plan would delay a repeal of DADT until the Pentagon completes its study in December.
Military officials have said a crucial component of the study is the survey of servicemembers, intended to give a review panel a baseline of information about the opinions of 2.2 million servicemembers and their families.
About half the surveys went to active-duty servicemembers and half to reservists, who received instructions to use an untraceable PIN number so that responses remained confidential.
Pentagon officials said it was important to provide anonymity so that gay and lesbian servicemembers could respond to the survey.
However, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a D.C.-based watchdog group, cautioned gay members of the Armed Forces against participating for fear an error in the process might actually result in a violation of DADT. The policy, as the nickname implies, prohibits the military from asking about sexual orientation and prohibits a servicemember from telling.
“A number of service members have contacted SLDN to seek guidance on surveys concerning the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” said SLDN executive director Aubrey Sarvis. “At this time SLDN cannot recommend that LGB servicemembers participate in any survey being administered by the Department of Defense, the Pentagon Working Group or any third-party contractors.
“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 servicemembers whose privacy may be inadvertently violated or who inadvertently outs himself or herself. If a servicemember still wishes to participate, he or she should only do so in a manner that does not reveal sexual orientation.”
Servicemembers United, a national group that represents LGBT troops, took a different approach.
SU executive director Alexander Nicholson, an Army interrogator discharged under DADT, said, “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.”