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The "don't ask, don't tell" policy does not distinguish between men and women. In practice, however, the policy has had a much greater adverse impact on women than men. In 2001, women constituted about 14 percent of the armed forces, yet 30 percent of the "don't ask, don't tell" discharges.174 The overall rate of discharges of women under the policy has been increasing: in 1997, they constituted only 22 percent of discharges.175

The exact causes of the far higher discharge rates for women are not known. Nevertheless, our research suggests lesbian and straight women in the military are victims of both homophobia and sexual harassment, as well as a vicious hybrid of the two-lesbian-baiting. Women who rebuff sexual advances by male soldiers face the prospect of being called a lesbian or a "dyke."176 Because of the risk of military discharge that follows such allegations, the "don't ask, don't tell" policy provides sexual harassers with a tool to threaten women who decline their sexual overtures or to intimidate women who hold non-traditional jobs, such as pilots, drill instructors, mechanics, or heavy-equipment operators, as well as those who hold leadership positions.177

A July 1997 Secretary of the Army's Senior Review Panel Report on Sexual Harassment noted:

One particular form of sexual harassment not addressed in the survey but commented on in a few focus groups and by other female soldiers in informal discussions, was the fear of being accused of being a homosexual. Female soldiers who refuse the sexual advances of male soldiers may be accused of being lesbians and subjected to investigation for homosexual conduct. As in the case of men falsely accused of sexual harassment, women accused of lesbianism believe that the mere allegation harms their careers and reputations irreparably.178

    The following cases illustrate the sexual harassment and lesbian-baiting that servicewomen face and the discharge that often results:

    · In October 1998, Lori Smith, a seaman apprentice, began working in the galley of the USS Eisenhower. While on the ship, she refused to date a married petty officer who repeatedly asked her if she was a lesbian. When she was off ship in Norfolk, Virginia, she rebuffed another sailor's sexual advances. When he was rejected, this sailor stated in front of other sailors, "You're a fucking dyke."179 Smith was subjected to repeated anti-gay comments and harassment and then in March 1999, found a typed message on her car's windshield [spelling and typographical errors from original]:

    Let me start iff by saying if you think you're hiding it, you're dead wrong, yeah you know what I'm talking about, you dyke ass bitch. And if you don't care, well you're doing a good job so far. We all know about you and your butch ass girlfriend, the entire ship knows. You homo's are sickening, the Navy, has no room for you twisted freaks. You queers, like being stared at, talked about, and laughed at? because it happens, whenever you show your faces!

    You are so wrong in what your doing, we haven't, and never will stand for it, you know you bitches are going to rot in hell. Your a perfect example of why there decieses, and Aids, (hell you dykes started the freakin' thing).

    Your constantly being watched, your every move, every step, you're getting closer and closer to what you vitchs deserve, it's only a matter of time before we to get you back, and teach you a lesson. One that you'll never, ever forget. Your pasrt overdue for a beatdown!!!!!! Theres no way to hide, you know theres no where to run! You live on the ship!

    SO YOU BETTER WATCH YOUR ASS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    We don't want you here, the Navy does'nt want you either. You should have just stayed in your own freakin homo world, with your own kind, at least then youd be somewhat safe, HERE YOUR NOT...........And as long as your in our world you never will be, you fuckin' Dykes.........180

      Concerned for her physical safety, Smith informed her commanding officer that she was a lesbian and was discharged.

    · Former Army Sgt. Victoria Casper was forced out of the Army in 1997 by lesbian-baiting.181 According to Casper, her male co-worker regularly made degrading comments about her, such as: "Casper is a fucking lesbian," "carpet muncher," "faggot," "queer," and a "dyke," and accused her of advancing professionally by giving sexual favors. She filed a sexual harassment complaint against the co-worker with the base Equal Opportunity Office. Shortly thereafter, Sergeant Casper was accused by a close friend of the co-worker of engaging in a homosexual marriage-an allegation that Casper denied. Casper concluded that fighting the allegations might jeopardize the honorable discharge that she had been offered to avoid an inquiry, and she decided to leave the military.

    · Lt. Commander Jill Szymanski was a Navy nurse for twelve and a half years and achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel before she chose to resign her commission in 1998.182 She described to Human Rights Watch a work environment of anti-gay jokes, and said she feared that an investigation into her private life under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy could be initiated at any time. Before she rose in the ranks, officers sexually harassed her. When she chose not to date one of them, he spread a rumor that she was a lesbian. To avoid an investigation, she went on dates with men. Although she did not want to leave the Navy and enjoyed being in the Navy nurse corps, she believed she was giving "150 percent" to a military that would discharge her if it found out who she was, and that the "don't ask, don't tell" policy prevented her from reporting harassment. "I was afraid [of an investigation] every single day," she said.183

    · In 2001, while she was based at Fort Hood, Texas, male soldiers repeatedly told Sgt. Tracey Cade that she was not "feminine enough." Cade, who was an army military policewoman with nearly five years of outstanding service, chose to acknowledge that she was a lesbian to escape persistent anti-gay harassment. She sought, and was granted, a separation under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy and was discharged in late 2001.184

    · Cadet Elizabeth Moseanko was in the Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program at Seattle University and hoping to become an officer, when her instructor told her in late 1999 that she was not feminine enough. She became the target of widespread, harassing speculation about her sexual orientation. Her peers asked her if she was a lesbian because some of her friends had short hair. An ROTC instructor learned of the rumors about Moseanko and the harassment. Instead of addressing the inappropriate comments by her peers, he ordered her into his office and told her to grow her hair longer, wear earrings, and apply make-up. She reported the instructor's actions and dropped out of the ROTC program in early 2001.185

    · Carol Melnick, former specialist in the Army, was subjected to constant anti-gay harassment as soon as she entered the Army in 1996. During the first week of basic training her sergeant lectured her after she casually put her hand on another female trainee's shoulder. In front of her platoon, the sergeant told Melnick that she would be "in a lot of trouble" if she did anything like that again. Apparently assuming that she was a lesbian, Melnick recounted how he stated "people like her" "disgusted him" and "shouldn't be allowed in the Army. They don't belong here." 186 After the sergeant's public diatribe, fellow servicemembers labeled Melnick a lesbian and continually harassed her. In one incident, a platoon sergeant pointed at Melnick and a female friend and yelled through the barracks that they were lesbians. They reported this to the head drill sergeant, who did nothing in response but smile.

      In another incident while she was based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Melnick was in a vehicle with several noncommissioned officers and an Equal Opportunity Office representative. A sergeant started telling sexually explicit joke about lesbians, and kept saying to Melnick, "Don't take this personally." All laughed and checked for Melnick's response. In a language class that Melnick attended, students repeatedly made anti-gay jokes, and one student reportedly stated, "There's nothing wrong with killing a few fags." Melnick concluded that "lewd comments and jokes about gays were prevalent and appeared to be as much a part of the Army culture as the uniform." Worried about her mental and physical health and tired of the harassment, Melnick made a statement that she was a lesbian and was discharged in 1998.

In March 1997, Under Secretary for Defense Edwin Dorn alluded to lesbian-baiting in a memorandum containing guidelines for addressing the investigation of anti-gay threats against servicemembers based on alleged homosexuality. The memo acknowledged "information we have received that some servicemembers have been threatened with being reported as homosexual after they rebuffed sexual advances or themselves reported acts of sexual misconduct by others."187 The memo was never distributed or implemented. When the memo was "reissued" in August 1999, its reference to lesbian-baiting had been deleted. During an August 10, 2001 meeting with Pentagon officials, Human Rights Watch asked why the reference had been deleted, but the officials had no explanation.188

174 In 2001, women constituted 19 percent of the Air Force, but 43 percent of Air Force discharges under the policy. They constituted 6 percent of the Marine Corps, but 18 percent of Marine discharges; they constituted 15 percent of the Army, but 34 percent of Army discharges. Only in the Navy was the percentage of female "don't ask, don't tell" discharges proportionate to women's representation overall. Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Conduct Unbecoming, March 14, 2002, p. 41, based on Department of Defense figures.

175 Ibid.

176 Lesbian-baiting is long-standing problem in the military. A 1992 report on sexual harassment prepared for the Department of the Army, 91st Division (Training) by the Inspector General and the Equal Opportunity Office noted, "the prohibition against homosexuals in the Army results in a subtle `billy club' for anyone to use against single women in the Army. When they turn down a `date' with another soldier, it is often whispered unjustifiably, that she is a `lesbian.'" Department of the Army 91st Division (Training), Sexual Harassment and Sexual Discrimination, October 20, 1992, p. 2.
As one male Marine stated in 1988:

I thank God every day that I am a male Marine in this male Marine Corps ... If a woman Marine is a little too friendly, she's a slut. If she doesn't smile at all, she's a dyke. I personally believe that a woman Marine in the normal course of a day confronts more stress and more bullshit than a male Marine would in twenty years.

Testimony of Captain Guy Richardson, U.S. Marines, at Article 39(a) Hearing of Sergeant Mary Kyle, 1988, quoted in Michelle M. Benecke and Kirstin S. Dodge, Military Women in Nontraditional Job Fields, p. 232.


"Servicewomen in nontraditional job fields expend an enormous amount of energy seeking to walk the fine line between effective competence and nonthreatening femininity; they must be feminine enough to reduce harassment, but must avoid the danger of being considered inferior or incompetent by virtue of this femininity. Because of the threat of harassment against women who associate together in groups, servicewomen cannot even turn to each other for relief and support in the face of this daily challenge."

Michelle M. Benecke and Kirstin S. Dodge, "Military Women: Casualties of the Armed Forces," in Gay Rights, Military Wrongs, edited by Craig A. Rimmerman (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1996), p. 85.

178 The Secretary of the Army's Senior Review Panel Report on Sexual Harassment, vol. 1, July 1997, p. 66.

179 Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Conduct Unbecoming, March 9, 2000, Exhibit 73; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Lori Smith, May 16, 2000.

180 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Lori Smith, May 16, 2000; Copy of written threat in Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Conduct Unbecoming, March 9, 2000, Exhibit 70.

181 Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Conduct Unbecoming, February 18, 1998, pp. 57-8; Human Rights Watch interview, Washington, D.C., January 28, 1999.

182 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Jill Szymanski, March 4, 1999. Unlike enlisted personnel, officers may resign and, in a case like this, would not have to make a statement under the policy to be removed from the services.

183 Jim Oliphant, "Under Friendly Fire," Legal Times, January 3, 2000.

184 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Tracey Cade, March 19, 2002; Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Conduct Unbecoming, March 14, 2002, p. 42.

185 Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Conduct Unbecoming, March 15, 2001, pp. 70-71.

186 Ibid., pp. 67-9.

187 Memorandum, Under Secretary of Defense Edwin Dorn to secretaries of the military departments, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and inspector general, "Guidelines for investigating threats against servicemembers based on alleged homosexuality," March 24, 1997.

188 Human Rights Watch interview with Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Management Gail McGinn and Robert Reed, General Counsel's office, Department of Defense, Washington D.C., August 10, 2001.

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