Recent polls indicate that while the civilian world is more supportive of allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the military, servicemembers are less so.
Fifty-five percent of civilians surveyed in a March 2007 Harris Poll agreed homosexuals should be allowed to serve openly.
An October 2006 Zogby International poll of military members, however, showed that 26 percent agreed with the idea of gays and lesbians serving openly, 37 percent disagreed, and 32 percent were neutral.
In recent weeks, Stripes asked servicemembers around the Pacific whether they thought the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was working or not. The 14-year-old policy permits people to serve so long as they don’t admit to or engage in homosexual behavior.
The following are servicemembers’ opinions on the issue:
“Don’t ask, don’t tell” DOES work
Allowing gays to openly serve would hurt the Army as a whole, said Cpl. Kerry Seaman, of the 2nd Infantry Division’s Special Troops Battalion, headquarters company, in South Korea.
“I don’t think standards should be lowered just because we need more soldiers,” Seaman said.
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Teresa Keener supports the policy, saying that it protects homosexuals’ privacy. Keener says she doesn’t mind homosexuality, but making a big production of it — like gay pride parades in the civilian world — is annoying.
“I think we should keep it in place,” said Keener, assigned to the USS Kitty Hawk at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. “If not, someone could ask you if you were gay. That would get around the ship like wildfire and you’d be treated like you had some mental illness or sickness. The policy protects homosexuals from being singled out.”
Petty Officer 3rd Class James Ritchie, also assigned to the Kitty Hawk, said the policy works in his department.
“It’s never been an issue,” Ritchie said. “You know when someone is gay, but people don’t make a big deal about it.”
A seaman aboard USS Blue Ridge, also based at Yokosuka, said it’s a “great policy.”
“In my opinion, a person’s sexual preference shouldn’t matter in the workplace, but on a ship it could become a problem,” said the sailor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “People can be so closed-minded, and they presume that if someone is gay that they will try to hit on them.
“Also, it’s not uncommon to hear someone say, ‘Shut up fag,’” he continued. “It isn’t meant to be offensive to anyone, but the presumption is that everyone is straight. If the person is gay, and someone says, ‘Shut up fag,’ well — then a perceived problem suddenly becomes real.”
“Don’t ask, don’t tell” DOESN’T work
Airman 1st Class Patrick Guerra of Misawa Air Base thinks the policy should be lifted.
“I think everyone deserves to live their life the way they want to live it. They shouldn’t have to keep it a secret just because they join the military,” he said.
Said Spc. Latoya Young, 2nd Infantry Division’s Special Troops Battalion, headquarters company, in South Korea: “The Army’s all about equal opportunity, so why not?”
Seaman Todd Harry, assigned to the Kitty Hawk, said it’s the “old salts” who seem to have the most trouble with homosexuality.
“Older sailors have a more intolerant mindset compared with my generation that grew up watching ‘Will and Grace,’” Harry said. “Maybe for the older people it’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ but for people in our generation, it’s more like ‘Don’t Care.’”
Kicking out otherwise qualified sailors for homosexuality only hurts the Navy, he added.
“There are a lot of good people who work here who have that lifestyle,” Harry said. “The military continues to function.”
But now, life could get difficult in a hurry for a sailor who people think is homosexual, said Kitty Hawk sailor Seaman Michael Calhoun.
“Leadership might not say that it’s because the person is gay, but they’ll make their life difficult in other ways, like giving them the hard jobs,” Calhoun said. “But what I care about is, is the person working next to me doing the job they’re supposed to?
“Don’t ask, don’t tell” DEPENDS on the situation
Cpl. Jeff Tumey and Pvt. Ryan Shepler of 2nd ID’s 1st Battalion, 72nd Armor Regiment in South Korea said they’re OK talking and working with gays, but public displays of affection would unsettle them.
Tumey also said heterosexual couples shouldn’t be making out in public while in uniform.
Airman 1st Class Michael Paterson of Misawa said he’s not bothered by the policy but also wouldn’t care if it was done away with.
“If they served openly, I wouldn’t be bothered by that,” he said. “I’ve known a few people who have served and had to keep it hidden.”
Senior Airman Brandon Currie, in Japan with Yokota Air Base’s 374th Communications Squadron, said he thinks that “whatever a person does behind closed doors is their own business.”
Currie, however, said he could see how there could be conflicts arising with openly gay servicemembers in certain situations, such as when a ship is underway or when a unit is deployed.
Lynn, a technical sergeant at Misawa who did not want to give her full name, said the policy “works sometimes and it doesn’t work sometimes. It’s a double-edged sword” because a good airman can lose his or her career by coming out of the closet.
But the policy works for her, she said.
“As long as the mission is done, the work is done, I’m fine with that,” Lynn said.
Stars and Stripes reporters Allison Batdorff, Jennifer Svan, Chris Fowler, Erik Slavin and Bryce Dubee contributed to this report.