Gays in the military who participate in a new survey about repealing "don't ask, don't tell" could be discharged for outing themselves, a legal advocacy group warns. The Pentagon denies that respondents would run any such risk.
The survey, which Pentagon researchers have begun emailing to 200,000 active-duty and 200,000 reserve members, asks how letting gays serve openly in the military would affect morale, according to a video report by CNN. The network says it obtained a leaked version of the document.
The survey asks whether a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" would cause a service member to reconsider military service. It also asks how serving under an openly gay commander would affect morale, and how troops would feel sharing a bathroom or open-air shower with an openly gay comrade.
In a statement, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an advocacy group dedicated to repealing the gay ban, recommends that gay and lesbian service members refrain from offering replies.
"While the surveys are apparently designed to protect the individual’s privacy, there is no guarantee of privacy and [the Department of Defense] has not agreed to provide immunity to service members whose privacy may be inadvertently violated or who inadvertently outs himself or herself," the group's executive director Aubrey Sarvis says. "If a service member still wishes to participate, he or she should only do so in a manner that does not reveal sexual orientation.”
But the Pentagon told the Associated Press that identifying data will be stripped from the surveys by a third party, and that the survey doesn't ask the respondent to reveal his or her sexual orientation. "They cannot be outed," Cynthia Smith, a Pentagon spokeswoman told the AP.
In May, the House of Representatives voted to end "don't ask, don't tell" pending the military's completion of its internal policy review of the ban. If the Senate approves the measure this summer, the ban may be retired as early as next year, according to the Washington Post.
UPDATE: Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters this afternoon that gays and lesbians should fill out the survey, and that their privacy would be protected. The Human Rights Campaign, another gay advocacy group, told the Washington Post they believed the surveys would remain private.