“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Gets Old With New Marines

The military ban overwhelmingly impacts black women.

By Jamilah King Nov 29, 2010

Just how deep is opposition to gay and lesbian soldiers serving openly in the military? A new Pentagon survey set to be released this week may have some answers. According to the survey, opposition seems to be strongest among military leaders in the Marines, a fact that highlights a brewing generational conflict over an issue that overwhelmingly impacts soldiers of color.

The survey will report that 40 percent of Marines are against gays serving openly, a number that’s been consistent with private polls and is the highest recorded rate of opposition in the military. The opposition is centered around the idea that openly gay troops will disrupt "unit cohesion" because of straight troops’ refusal to bunk with them.

Not too long ago, Jorge Rivas wrote about how "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" disproportionately affects black women. Although black women make up less than one percent of total servicemembers, they make up over 3 percent of soldiers discharged under the policy, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce.

But senior Marines seem to be leading the charge by speaking out openly in favor of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." Gen. Peter Pace, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote an editorial in 2007 calling homosexuality immoral, for which he later apologized. And earlier this year, Marine Gen. Jack Sheehan caused an uproar after insinuating that allowing openly gay troops to serve could lead to massacres.

"They were raised in a culture not shared by today’s younger Marines, who have grown up in a society where homosexuality doesn’t have the connotations that it had back in the ’70s and ’80s and 90s, when today’s Marine Corps senior leadership came up," Gary Solis, a law professor who served in the Marines, told NPR.

Tammy Shultz also gives some historical perspective.

"Sixty perfect of Marines actually don’t think this is a big issue. And those numbers are better than what they were ever for desegregation, frankly." Tammy Schultz, an openly gay professor at the Marine Corp War College, also told NPR.