The military's war on lesbians

Women are disproportionately discharged under "don't ask, don't tell" -- especially in the Air Force

By Tracy Clark-Flory

Published October 9, 2009 7:05AM (EDT)

Apparently "don't ask, don't tell" strictly applies even in some military classrooms. The Air Force Academy gave a lieutenant colonel the boot for inviting gay alumni and combat veterans to speak to her class about non-hetero military members, reports the University of California, Santa Barbara's Palm Center. Lt. Col. Edith A. Disler had the visit approved by her course director, but when higher-ups at the academy in Colorado Springs found out, she was investigated, formally reprimanded and banned from teaching.

In a case of poetic timing, if not justice, the center also released data Thursday showing women are disproportionately punished under the military's fingers-in-your-ears policy toward homosexuals. Last year, an analysis of Pentagon data came to the same conclusion. Only this year, the most dramatic imbalance showed up in the Air Force: Women account for 20 percent of personnel, but received 61 percent of discharges last year under "don't ask, don't tell." In comparison, "women received 36 percent of discharges in the Army, where they make up 14 percent of personnel, 23 percent in the Navy where they make up 14 percent, and 18 percent in the Marines where they make up only 6 percent," reports the Palm Center.

We have the numbers, we know there's a discharge disparity, but we don't know why. Since this data was released just as word came of the academy professor getting sacked, some have naturally looked at the Air Force in search of an explanation. In a press release, Dr. Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, makes an unflattering comparison between the Air Force's classroom censors and the Defense Department: The latter was more than happy to publish an essay by Col. Om Prakash (PDF) in the Joint Forces Quarterly arguing against the military's policy on gays. "This public criticism of the policy by a military official is an important indication that the Pentagon welcomes genuine discussion on the issue, says Belkin. Whereas the Air Force's silencing of conversation, even small-scale classroom conversations, suggests an overriding fear of debate on the matter.

Views on gays in the military are shifting and, as Belkin puts it, "the Air Force seems out of step.” Well, it's time to get in line.

Tracy Clark-Flory

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