September 19, 2022

Top Pentagon Research Office Finds Fears of Gay Service Were Unfounded

Official Military Report Documents Contrast Between Negative Predictions and Lack of Harm

SAN FRANCISCO, CA — An extended report published by an elite Pentagon research arm has found that opposition to open service by gay, lesbian, and bisexual troops was based on overblown fears among both military leadership and the rank and file. The 196-page report was published by the military’s Joint History and Research Office, a think tank for the Joint Chiefs of Staff that provides them with both classified and unclassified information, and chronicles their thinking and activities. The report, which is based on extensive research and interviews, and describes private documents and conversations among top military and political officials at the time of repeal, concludes that ending the ban on service by openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual Americans in 2011 had no negative effect on military readiness. 
“Time and again, opponents of equality have claimed that inclusion would harm America’s most important institutions and threaten the nation itself,” said Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, an independent, non-partisan research institute that conducts scholarly analysis of U.S. military personnel policy. “And time and again, that’s turned out to be false. This official military study makes clear the yawning gap between fearmongering and reality, and should guide dialogue about similar claims in the present, such as fears that inclusion for transgender Americans is somehow a threat to our society.”
The study, “Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: A Historical Perspective from the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” is a public document that appears to mirror a 2016 classified report with the same title. It is unclear why the report was originally classified. The Palm Center sought comment from the Joint History and Research Office but did not receive a response.
The report describes dramatic fears of harm to readiness during the 2009-10 lead-up to the ban’s repeal, and contrasts them with consistent findings of no impact. A section entitled, “A Nonissue,” reports that some of the service chiefs who had opposed repeal or predicted harm to unit cohesion and effectiveness, conceded that their concerns were unfounded, and that readiness concerns were often based on misperceptions and stereotypes. Gen. James Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps and the most vociferous opponent of inclusion in the upper ranks of the military, had told Congress that repeal “has strong potential for disruption at the small unit level as it will no doubt divert leadership attention away from an almost singular focus on preparing units for combat.” Yet “two months later, General James Amos told reporters that the policy change had been a ‘non-event’” and that he was “very pleased” with how the policy change had gone. Similarly, when the military’s combatant commanders were asked to assess the impact of repeal on readiness, effectiveness, cohesion, recruiting, and retention two months after the ban ended, they “reported no impact on any of these categories.” Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff after Adm. Mike Mullen, told Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in 2013 (two years after repeal) that he agreed with the combatant commanders’ conclusion that the policy change had “no impact” in undermining readiness.
The report also describes how the Pentagon’s Comprehensive Review Working Group (CRWG), tasked with assessing the impact of repeal, initially overestimated the risk of harms to readiness. An observing team “judged that the panel had ‘presumed greater risk . . . than warranted given the data and information considered’” and so the CRWG “revised its risk assessment down to ‘low.’” The group determined that “doubts about repealing DADT were based upon misperceptions about what it would mean for gay or lesbian servicemembers to serve openly,” reflecting prejudices and stereotypes that were “exaggerated and inconsistent with the experience of servicemembers who had knowingly served alongside gay and lesbian personnel.”
The U.S. military has a long history of conducting—and then ignoring or even burying—research into whether sexual minorities put readiness at risk. No evidence has ever been found linking service of LGBTQ personnel to an impairment of cohesion, effectiveness, or overall readiness. Yet as described in numerous historical accounts, the national conversation over inclusive service was, for decades, consumed by expressions of fear and predictions about significant harm to cohesion and readiness that were never borne out.