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General News    H3'ed 7/10/10

Pentagon Reacts To Heavy Fire Over DADT Survey

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Alexander Nicholson, Executive Director of Servicemembers United

Yesterday, gay and lesbian advocates took sharp aim at the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" survey the Pentagon finally made available on Wednesday to 400,000 troops. Alexander Nicholson, Executive Director of Servicemembers United said:

"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."

Many more media outlets, LGBT and not, and advocacy groups agreed, questioning a wide range of the survey's language, framing and subjects. The Pentagon quickly switched to damage control, hastily convening a press conference to address those concerns.

Nicholson released a statement to the press:

"This expensive 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."

Nicholson and others criticized the use of the word "homosexual," which has been shown in polling to inhibit support for LGBT issues when used instead of "gay and lesbian." [psychodrew also says the APA has decided to its use from publications.] From a recent CBS poll on the issue of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which tested this by polling the same question using both terms:

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Nicholson's accompanying memo (pdf) also closely examined specific areas and language his organization felt exhibited framing bias, and push-poll tactics. They called out this question as representative of a handful of others:

If Don't Ask, Don't Tell is repealed and you are assigned to share a room, berth or field tent with someone you believe to be a gay or lesbian Service member, which are you most likely to do? Mark 1.

1. Take no action
2. Discuss how we expect each other to behave and conduct ourselves while sharing a room, berth or field tent
3. Talk to a chaplain, mentor, or leader about how to handle the situation
4. Talk to a leader to see if I have other options
5. Something else
6. Don't know

Nicholson explains:

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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Attempting to mitigate damage to the study's credibility, a press conference was held Friday afternoon by Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell. The spokesman expressed that the Pentagon was "discouraged" that the questions were leaked and had hoped they'd remain confidential. He conceded the questionnaire is not scientific. He did, however, defend the survey against the criticism of bias and homophobia, calling it "nonsense" and saying, "This is the work of an incredibly respected, professional survey organization." The organization in question being Westat Corporation which has been paid a reportedly $4.5 million dollars to conduct the survey on behalf of the Pentagon.

Morrell called the media coverage of this story "inflammatory." Though less impassioned in its rhetorical choices than Nicholson, Salon also posted a piece that took swipes at the not-to-subtle homophobic framing bias throughout the survey. Morrell singled out the outlet out for criticism, taking particular umbrage at their choice of headline:

"Pentagon asks troops how gross it would be to shower with a gay person"

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