Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page


"Don't ask, don't tell" was intended to stop unwarranted, intrusive inquiries into the private lives of gay, lesbian, and bisexual servicemembers. Under the policy, only commanders are authorized to inquire into servicemembers' sexual orientation, and then, only on the basis of credible information. Servicemembers nevertheless report frequent questions by officers without authorization, inquiries launched on the basis of rumors, and extremely intrusive questions into their private lives-as well as the private lives of others. Servicemembers who have endured a hostile work environment and anti-gay harassment have then faced the harassment of intrusive inquiries by military officials.

According to Department of Defense policy, the April 1998 Review of the Effectiveness of the Application and Enforcement of the Department's Policy on Homosexual Conduct in the Military and the August 1999 memorandum Implementation of Recommendations Concerning Homosexual Conduct Policy, "little or no investigation" should be conducted following a statement of sexual orientation.189 The servicemember should only be asked if he or she understands the repercussions-discharge-that may result from the statement. But commanders or others may conduct inquiries to determine whether a statement of homosexuality was "fabricated in an effort to avoid [a deployment or] a service obligation."190 An inquiry into the truth of the statement necessarily entails the same intrusive inquiry that the policy theoretically proscribes.

The following cases illustrate the problem of unauthorized inquiries and intrusive investigations that violate the "don't ask" component of the policy:

      · In March 1999, rumors prompted a master sergeant and senior airman at the Defense Language Institute (DLI) to ask two female airmen about their sexual orientation.191 The master sergeant asked one airman if she had become "a little too friendly" with another female airman, and then he and the senior airman asked fellow airmen about the two women's sexual orientation. The master sergeant asked a third airman, Deanna Grossi, if she had a "propensity to like the same kind of people" after asking about the two female airmen originally approached.

      Grossi's classmates and a civilian instructor subsequently verbally harassed her, but she felt she could not stop the harassment without making the situation worse. In a memorandum to a lieutenant colonel describing the anti-gay climate and harassment at DLI, she wrote: "I have endured more over the course of the past year than I have in the sum of the first 19 years of my existence. Treatment like I received needs to be stopped. No one deserves to be targeted because of an inability to defend one's self."192 Grossi sought, and was granted, a discharge under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

    · A male DLI student made a statement acknowledging homosexuality in May, 1999, seeking a discharge "to avoid becoming the target of harassment or a witch hunt in the future." The inquiry officer asked him about his sexual experiences before joining the services, about other gay airmen, and asked for telephone numbers of people who could verify that he was gay. His friends were subsequently questioned, despite his request that the matter be handled confidentially.193

    · John Petrozino, an airman at DLI, was subjected to anti-gay jokes and hostile remarks. At one point, an airman shouted, "We still have a faggot on flight," and Petrozino believed the airman was referring to him. Faced with harassment and the anti-gay climate, Petrozino informed his master sergeant that he was gay.194 An inquiry officer subsequently questioned Petrozino, delving into his personal life with questions touching upon which family members knew he was gay and how they could be contacted, whom he dated, how frequently, who his friends were, and how to contact them. In the course of her investigation, the inquiry officer found that:

    ... a hostile and intolerant environment existed in [Petrozino's] flight group and the squadron. Both A1C [Airman First Class] Milani and A1C Shell admit to spreading rumors that the subject was gay and making derogatory comments about homosexuals in general. It is clear that absent the subject's admission there would be insufficient credible evidence to support a finding that he has the propensity to engage in homosexual conduct. The fact that a hostile environment exists, provides the motive for his disclosure.195

      Problems at DLI continued. Between October 2001 and September 2002, the army discharged for being gay at least seven linguists who were trained in Arabic.196 The army also discharged two linguists proficient in Korean and one proficient in Mandarin Chinese under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Two of the linguists were discharged after the men broke visitation rules, leading to a search of one of their rooms and the discovery of personal letters and photographs that revealed that they were gay. The eight other language students informed their commanders that they were homosexuals because they did not want to live in enforced silence under the policy or because they faced anti-gay verbal harassment.197 Both the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, which involved hijackers from Arabic-speaking countries, and the possible war with Iraq have highlighted the shortage of Arabic speakers in the military and in intelligence agencies working with the military. Critics of the DLI discharges have questioned the wisdom of a policy that deprives the U.S. military of personnel with much needed language skills.198

    · Airman Jeremy Cruz, based at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, sought discharge from the Air Force in May 1999 because he was gay, not sexually active, and was tired of not being able to talk about his private life.199 Without command authorization, a first sergeant questioned Cruz and told him he was being investigated for violating the sodomy law. Cruz initially stated that he had not had sex with men, but was attracted to them and was not attracted to women. He was subsequently questioned again about his sex life, and eight other people were questioned about his sexual conduct. During repeated, invasive questioning, the first sergeant asked Cruz "how do you know you're gay if you've never had sex with a man?" and "to tell me about it ... the number of men or how many times?" Cruz ultimately revealed details about his sexual conduct and at the first sergeant's insistence wrote down the names of all of the sexual partners he had had prior to joining the military. He was discharged under the policy and no sodomy charges were filed. The first sergeant filed a report stating that she had told Cruz during one interrogation that "there's [sic] other avenues to pass the time than just with any gay community. I recommended sports, Community Activity Center, the hobby shop, and volunteering."200

189 Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), Report to the Secretary of Defense, April 1998, pp. 9-10; Memorandum, Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness) Rudy de Leon to Secretaries of the Military Departments, "Implementation of Recommendations Concerning Homosexual Conduct Policy," August 12, 1999.

190 Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), Report to the Secretary of Defense, April 1998, pp. 9-10; Memorandum, Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), Implementation of Recommendations. The April 1998 review included mention of "a deployment or a service obligation" while the August 1999 guidelines simply stated "a service obligation."

191 Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Conduct Unbecoming, March 9, 2000, p. 30; Jane Haseldine and Kathleen Wong, "Bias at DLI Alleged; 14 cases of anti-gay harassment in past year, report claims," Monterey County-Herald, March 10, 2000; Doug Ireland, "Search and Destroy: Gay-Baiting in the military under `don't ask, don't tell," The Nation, July 10, 2000. Throughout 1999 and early 2000, a dozen airmen, male and female, at the DLI were discharged after they were inappropriately "asked" about their sexual orientation. The Department of Defense initiated an inquiry into the DLI allegations of harassment, but never made its findings public.

192 Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Conduct Unbecoming, March 9, 2000, Exhibit 37.

193 Ibid., Exhibit 30.

194 Memorandum, Major Terry A. O'Brien, Department of the Air Force, July 31, 1999. Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Conduct Unbecoming, March 9, 2000, Exhibit 33.

195 Ibid.

196 "Gay Army Linguists Say They Were Ousted," New York Times, November 14, 2002; CNN, "Gay army translator dismissed," Wolf Blitzer Reports, November 29, 2002; Alastair Gamble (Op-ed), "A military at war needs its gay soldiers," New York Times, November 29, 2002; Servicemembers Legal Defense Network press release, November 14, 2002.

197 E-mail communication from the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network responding to Human Rights Watch query, December 16, 2002.

198 Nathaniel Frank, "Real Evidence on Gays in the Military," Washington Post, December 3, 2002.

199 Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Conduct Unbecoming, March 9, 2000, pp. 40-1, Exhibit 45.

200 Ibid., Exhibit 45.

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page