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article imageLesbians suffer most from 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy in U.S.

By Chris Dade     Oct 9, 2009 in Lifestyle
Research has revealed that lesbians suffer disproportionately compared to gay men as a result of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that applies to the U.S. military.
Research carried out by the Palm Center at the University of California in Santa Barbara revealed women made up a mere 15 percent of all active-duty and reserve members of the military but accounted for more than 33 percent of the 619 members of the military discharged from service in 2008 because of their sexual orientation.
Lesbians in the Air Force were at the most risk of being discharged, with MSNBC reporting that whilst women formed just 20 percent of the Air Force, 61 percent of those who found their military career at an end because they were gay were women.
It is the first year since the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which removes from the military those who are openly gay, was introduced in the mid 1990s that a larger percentage of women were discharged from a branch of the military than men.
According to CNN 90 people in total were discharged from the Air Force in 2008, 56 of them women and 34 of them men.
In the army too there was considerable disparity, with 36 per cent of those removed from the service being women. However only 14 percent of those serving in the army were female.
The Navy figures were 23 percent of discharges compared to 14 percent of the personnel and in the Marines it was 18 percent of discharges to 6 percent of personnel.
Julianne Sohn was the only female Marine officer discharged as a consequence of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" last year and she had just returned from seven months in Iraq when she was told that she was being investigated because of her sexual orientation. The call giving her that news was not a great surprise, several of her colleagues already knew that she was a lesbian and had warned her that an investigation was likely pending, but she said that she felt insulted at being treated almost like a criminal.
Nathaniel Frank is one of the researchers from the Palm Center, which studies in depth gender and sexuality in the military, and he said that one of the reasons for the discrimination that is seemingly revealed by the figures might be that gay women are more prevalent than gay men in the armed forces.
But another explanation offered by Mr Frank, supported by some women who had served in the military, was that rumors of lesbianism and subsequent investigation of the person at the center of the rumors followed rejection of a male colleague's sexual advances. Failing to meet traditional notions of feminine beauty may be another reason for what may amount to little more than persecution in some cases.
Anuradha Bhagwati served in the Marines and is the founder of the Service Women's Action Network, which states on its website that it is "a non-partisan, non-profit organization that works to improve the welfare of current U.S. servicewomen and to assist all women veterans". She said of the situations described by Mr Frank:
Often times the lesbians under my command were under scrutiny by the same men who were also sexually harassing straight women, so it was this kind of sexist undercurrent of 'You don't belong here'
The Pentagon was unable to comment on the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which has led to the discharge of 13,000 service members since its implementation, a spokeswoman saying that to comment may actually be a breach of the policy.
U.S. President Barack Obama has come under pressure from activists to repeal the ban on gay people serving in the military and the matter will doubtless come under discussion on Saturday when he addresses a fundraising dinner being organized by the Human Rights Campaign, the largest gay rights group in the U.S.
As the Star Tribune reports the fundraising dinner precedes Sunday's National Equality March which is being held at the National Mall in Washington.
Richard Socarides, who advised the administration of Bill Clinton on gay and lesbian policy, expressed the disappointment of many gay Americans with President Obama, making reference to the military ban, when he said:
Eleven months after his election, he has failed to deliver on any of his commitments to gay Americans, but even worse has been his refusal to engage around these issues. What he needs to do now is engage and deliver. Spend some of his political capital on ending the gay military ban, a hugely symbolic issue. And with no intellectually sound arguments left against it, come out squarely for gay marriage equality
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