Don't Ask, Don't Be

A Houston-area man leads the fight against the ban on gays in the military

Elaine Donnelly is one person who supports the unit-cohesion argument.

The Michigan resident created a Web site called the Center For Military Readiness to balance information issued by what she calls the "advocacy groups."

"No one has an inherent right to serve in the military," she says from her home, later adding that gays, like the infirm and the elderly, can "serve their country in some other way."

Cook was discharged one month before he was to 
serve in Iraq.
Daniel Kramer
Cook was discharged one month before he was to serve in Iraq.
Moskos: DADT protects the right to privacy.
Courtesy of Northwestern University
Moskos: DADT protects the right to privacy.

She says Congress recognizes that "if someone says, 'I am homosexual,' that means that they engage in the conduct that defines what homosexuality is. Again, it's that simple."

Again, it's not.

A policy that, in its strictest sense, discharges a virgin who says he's a homosexual while keeping a guy who says he's heterosexual but fellated half his company is anything but clear. That's why the Department of Defense issued a manual with a set of scenarios in 1993, supposedly to give service members the idea of what's homosexual behavior and what's not. The manual asks what you should do (and then tells you) if you see a service member "hanging around a downtown gay bar"; if you find a letter from one man to another signed "All my love, Sugar"; or if you see photographs of two men engaging in anal sex.

Eight years later, service members apparently were still befuddled, so the army tried explaining things in comic-book format. The 2001 pamphlet "Dignity & Respect" introduced Major Rivers, Private First Class Howard, Sergeant Williams and the rest of the gang, who maneuvered through different DADT scenarios.

The comic book explains the reasoning behind why homosexuality is not compatible with military service. This unit-cohesion argument, however, contradicted two federally financed studies indicating that recruiting openly gay service members would not be harmful.

A 1993 RAND study financed by the Department of Defense suggested that cohesion can be divided into two categories: social and task. Social cohesion -- a set of shared values or traits -- is wonderful, but is not necessary to achieve a common task.

"Task cohesion, not social cohesion, appears to be what drives successful performance," the study concluded.

The study acknowledged the military's "high levels of hostility toward homosexuals" at the time and stated that how well a unit accepted openly gay service members depended a lot on leadership. The report also suggested that instead of booting anyone out of service, you can always assign disruptive members to another unit.

A 1992 GAO report came to the same conclusion as the RAND study. That report cited an earlier study by the DoD itself that stated, "The order to integrate blacks was first met with stout resistance by traditionalists in the military establishment. Dire consequences were predicted for maintaining discipline, building group morale and achieving military organizational goals. None of these predictions of doom has come true."

Donnelly doesn't buy the race argument. As Colin Powell argued in 1993, Donnelly says, race is only skin-deep, whereas sexuality is a force to be reckoned with.

"Sexuality is a very powerful force in human relationships," Donnelly says. "The desire for modesty should be respected. The primary thing I will say is this: It's difficult enough to be in the military. It's difficult enough. And I do not agree with those who would impose this additional social burden on those who volunteer to serve."

Furthermore, she says, "acceptance of that agenda would hurt recruiting."


Stacy Vasquez knows recruiting.

The Dallas native was the top recruiter in her brigade at Fort Sam Houston for the first quarter of 2003. Her evaluation also shows she had the highest score in her company on the Army Physical Fitness Test.

"A top-notch NCO [noncommissioned officer] and leader prepared and destined for positions of greater responsibility," her company commander wrote of Vasquez in her February 2003 evaluation.

At the same time, she was under investigation for allegedly conducting a homosexual act. The civilian wife of a service member told Vasquez's commander she saw Vasquez kiss another woman at a club in Dallas. She sat idle for a few months until she was discharged. In 12 years of service, Vasquez was promoted seven times. She earned the Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Army Gold Recruiter Badge and Expert Marksmanship Qualification Badge with Grenade Bar, among other awards.

Like Cook, Vasquez grew up in a family with a strong military tradition. Her great-grandfather was a cavalry commander, her grandfather an air force colonel, and her father a navy SEAL in Vietnam. She joined when she was 17, before she realized her sexual identity.

The army paid for her tuition at the University of Houston, where she earned a degree in political science and interned for City Controller Annise Parker, who is openly gay. In the army, she worked as a paralegal and recruiter.

Upon her discharge, she joined the staff of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network in Washington, D.C., which is representing Vasquez and the other plaintiffs in Cook v. Rumsfeld.

"I enjoy helping young people find good ways to pay for their education and get skills and stuff like that," the 33-year-old says from her D.C. office. "I think that the army does a great job at that…I still have recruits that I'm in contact with now. One of my recruits just left for Iraq today."

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