Antigay harassment in the U.S. military is down slightly from the all-time high of last year, said Dixon Osburn executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network ( SLDN ) . He hopes that it is the beginning of a trend but admits that it could be just a statistical blip.
That conclusion was part of "Conduct Unbecoming: The Seventh Annual Report on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue, Don't Harass' ( DADT ) ." It is the most recent installment of SLDN's continued evaluation of the policy, released March 15.
"It was like birthing triplets," said Osburn of the report. "It is bigger than anything that we've ever done before. We just have more to say."
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SLDN documented 1,472 violations of the policy in 2000, down from 1,685 the previous year. That is a decline of about 12 percent. But it still ranked higher by far than any other of the five previous years that the policy has been in existence.
Because so much public attention had focused on violations of DADT, and new policies had been announced, some people had anticipated a greater decline of incidence of harassment.
Last March the Pentagon's Inspector General issued a report on a survey it conducted among 75,000 servicemembers. It found that 80 percent had heard antigay comments within the military during the previous year, while 37 percent had witnessed or experienced antigay harassment. A majority said that their leaders took no steps to condone or control that harassment.
Then in July the Department of Defense adopted an Anti-Harassment Action Plan. However, the SLDN report slammed the Pentagon brass for failing to issue orders implementing that plan. It called that failure "inexcusable" and "irresponsible" in light of the antigay murders of sailor Alan Schindler in 1992 and soldier Barry Winchell in 1999, and the widespread nature of harassment as documented by the military's own studies.
The report singles out the Army for going farthest in implementing training programs to stop harassment and in holding officers accountable for the atmosphere and incidents in their command. The other services have done relatively little in these areas.
Osburn speculates this is because the latest incident that gained widespread public attention, Winchell's murder and the trial of his killers, focused attention on the Army. The decline in total number of incidents over the past year occurred primarily in the Army.
SLDN's data indicates officers seem to be "asking" about sexual orientation less frequently than before, while rank-and-file servicemembers continue to "ask" of their peers. This suggests that real and fair implementation of DADT is beginning to seep down into the field, but still has a long way to go.
The report said, "If military leaders are committed to stopping questions about sexual orientation, they must discourage enlisted members from harassing each other about their personal lives." It called for full implementation of training and accountability in administering DADT.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is conducting a six-month "top-to-bottom" review of all Pentagon goals and policy. Only his deputy in the new administration has been selected while other political appointees to run the department have yet to be named.
Pentagon Spokesman Admiral Craig Quigley said that the Secretary intends to issue an anti-harassment directive, but "in the meantime, there should be no doubt in any servicemember's mind that their service does not tolerate harassment."
"We now stand at a political crossroads," said Osburn. "The question is whether the Bush Administration will do what the Clinton Administration failed to do and enforce DADT with fairness and compassion."