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Gays ok in wartime: the Pentagon has long denied that out gays are allowed to serve during war, but a recently uncovered Army document clearly instructs commanders not to discharge any gay soldier preparing for active duty.

Does the U.S. military enforce its gay ban only during peacetime? It's a long-standing argument made by those critical of the armed services' "don't ask, don't tell" policy, and now a controversial Army document found by researchers in July may finally lend some credence to an accusation that has long been denied by the Pentagon.

The new document is the first evidence of written military regulations that specifically call for retaining openly gay soldiers, says Aaron Belkin, director of the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military. Belkin found the document, part of a 151-page Reserve Component Unit Commander's Handbook, while researching a story on gays in the military for the ABC News program Nightline. While not a classified document, the handbook is for official use only and was extremely difficult to find. "Someone on the inside leaked this to me," Belkin says.

The handbook on how to mobilize and deploy troops specifies that openly gay soldiers requesting to be discharged for "homosexual conduct" cannot be let go if their unit is already preparing for active duty. Under such circumstances, the "discharge is not authorized. Member will enter [active duty] with the unit," the handbook states.

Pentagon officials have repeatedly denied such a policy exists, but the numbers tell a different story. In every conflict since World War II, discharges for gay "conduct" have plummeted when the country is at war only to rise again during peacetime. According to Pentagon figures, 1,241 gay and lesbian soldiers were discharged in 2000, the year before the United States went to war in Afghanistan and, later, Iraq. By 2004 that number had dropped to 653. "The bottom line is that discharges are down by about 50% during this war, and that's no accident," Belkin says.

According to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, openly lesbian and gay soldiers are to be discharged immediately upon coming out, whether the country is at war or not. But Pentagon officials, who had not responded to repeated requests for comment as of press time, have attributed the huge drop in wartime discharges to random fluctuations, not military policy.

Since military leaders claim that openly gay soldiers undermine unit morale, the practice of sending them into battle shows the "gross hypocrisy" of "don't ask, don't tell," said Steve Ralls of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. "There's no time when cohesion and morale are more important than when a unit is deployed into a war zone."

Though discharges have decreased dramatically in the past few years, the military is still pursing and expelling gay soldiers, Ralls warns, citing this year's discharge proceedings against 10 gay armed forces members who were outed in their online profiles. (To date, five of the 10 have been discharged.) In another highly publicized case, in the past few years the military has expelled more than two dozen gay linguists who are fluent in Arabic, despite an overwhelming need for their specific skills.

Several of the United States's closest allies, including the United Kingdom, Israel, Canada, and Australia, allow openly gay soldiers to serve in their militaries, Rails says, and growing support for the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" among both Democrats and Republicans in Congress could mean it's only a matter of time before the ban is lifted.
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Title Annotation:MILITARY
Author:Letellier, Patrick
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 27, 2005
Words:550
Previous Article:Gwyneth Paltrow.
Next Article:Coming home: out Iraqi vet Joshua Moreland takes a stand.
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