By Liz Goodwin
Though Congress still hasn’t settled the ultimate fate of the the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on military service openly gay soldiers, one thing is clear: The military won’t be establishing gay-segregated facilities to allay some service members’ qualms about sharing bathrooms and showers with openly gay comrades in arms.
The Pentagon has been on the defensive over its survey on gays, which has drawn flak from advocacy groups for gay veterans and service members since military researchers sent it to 400,000 service members last week.
On Friday, Department of Defense spokesman Geoff Morrell slammed gay advocacy groups for criticizing the survey, saying their accusations “have been inflammatory in the worst case, and misleading in the best case,” according to the American Forces Press Service.
Servicemembers United, an advocacy group for gay and lesbian members of the military, has called the questions “biased and derogatory.” Citizens for Repeal, another group for gays in the military, says the survey is “unprofessional, unprecedented and unnecessary.” A legal advocacy group for gays and lesbians has warned them not to fill out the survey, saying that so long as the gay ban is in force, their replies could be used to out them and discharge them from the military. (The Pentagon says participants’ identities will remain private, and denies that any respondent would be outed or discharged as a result of completing the questionnaire.)
Morrell defended the portion of the survey that asks about “privacy” concerns, such as how a respondent would feel sharing an open bay shower with a gay comrade.
“We think it would be irresponsible to conduct a survey that didn’t address these questions, because when ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is repealed, we will have to determine if there are any challenges in those particular areas, any adjustments that need to be made in terms of how we educate the force, or perhaps even facility adjustments that need to be made to deal with those scenarios,” Morrell said Friday, according to the American Forces Press Service.
Writers at liberal blogs Talking Points Memo, ThinkProgress and Americablog interpreted Morrell’s statement on “facility adjustments” to mean the military could consider creating separate bathing or living facilities for gay troops, since the questions on privacy focused on sharing living spaces with gay comrades. But on Monday, Morrell told Igor Volsky of ThinkProgress that segregated facilities are “absolutely off the table.”
However, Morrell told Stephanie Condon of CBS that the military may consider small facility changes like adding shower curtains. “We don’t know if any adjustments will be required, but we need to survey the force to get an idea of what their privacy concerns are,” he told Condon.
Morrell said the survey is not a referendum on the repeal of the policy, but rather research to aid Pentagon officials in implementing a repeal if and when it comes to pass.
In May, the House of Representatives voted to end the ban pending the military’s completion of its internal policy review. The Senate has yet to vote on the repeal.