From Zogby International:
Survey Indicates Shift in Military Attitudes
Nearly one in four U.S. troops (23%) say they know for sure that someone in their unit is gay or lesbian, and of those 59% said they learned about the person's sexual orientation directly from the individual, a Zogby International poll of troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan shows.
More than half (55%) of the troops who know a gay peer said the presence of gays or lesbians in their unit is well known by others. According to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, service members are not allowed to say that they are gay.
These findings come amidst significant changes in the military and political landscape. This week, Robert M. Gates took over as the U.S. Secretary of Defense, and next month, Democrats will take control of the Congress. Some observers expect the new climate to prompt intense examination of all aspects of military policy including potential reinstitution of the draft, which is advocated by some in the new majority's leadership.
According Congressman Marty Meehan (D-MA), "These new data prove that thousands of gay and lesbian service members are already deployed overseas and are integrated, important members of their units. It is long past time to strike down 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and create a new policy that allows gays and lesbians to serve openly."
The Zogby Interactive poll of 545 troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan was designed in conjunction with the Michael D. Palm Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and conducted by Zogby Oct. 24-26, 2006. It carries a margin of error of +/- 4.3 percentage points.
Of those in combat units, 21% said they know for certain that someone in their unit is gay or lesbian, slightly less than for those in combat support units (25%) and combat service support units (22%). One in five troops (20%) in other units said they know for certain someone is gay or lesbian in their unit. Overall, nearly half (45%) say there are people in their unit they suspect are gay or lesbian, but they don't know for sure. Slightly more than half (52%) say they have received training on the prevention of anti-gay harassment in the past three years. But 40% say they have not received this type of training, which is mandated by Defense Department policy.
The data also indicate that military attitudes about homosexuality have shifted. In the early 1990's, many senior officers argued that U.S. troops could not form bonds of trust with gays and lesbians, according to Dr. Aaron Belkin, Director of the Palm Center, who has written widely on the subject. According to the new Zogby data, however, nearly three in four troops (73%) say they are personally comfortable in the presence of gays and lesbians. Of the 20% who said they are uncomfortable around gays and lesbians, only 5% are "very" uncomfortable, while 15% are "somewhat" uncomfortable. Just two percent of troops said knowing that gays are not allowed to serve openly was an important reason in their decision to join the military.
Some troops believe the integration of openly gay and lesbian service members in the military could undermine cohesion, but those who know at least one gay peer are less likely to believe it would negatively impact morale. Of those who know a gay or lesbian peer, 27% said it has a negative impact on the morale of their unit. By contrast, among those who do not know of a gay or lesbian person in their unit, or are unsure of their presence, 58% said it would have a negative impact on their unit.
Prominent supporters of "don't ask, don't tell" have expressed concerns about privacy in the shower, Dr. Belkin said, but nearly three out of four troops said in the Zogby poll that they usually or almost always take showers privately – only 8% say they usually or almost always take showers in group stalls.
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