Winner: 2011 Policy Impact Award

American Association for Public Opinion Research

Abstract

At the request of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Secretary of Defense, the RAND Corporation conducted a study on sexual orientation and U.S. military policy in order to provide information and analysis that might be considered in discussing the possible repeal of the law known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT). The study examined DADT implementation; U.S. public and military opinion about allowing gay men and lesbians to serve in the military without restriction; and the scientific literature on group cohesion, sexual orientation, and related health issues. RAND conducted focus groups with military personnel and a survey of gay, lesbian, and bisexual military personnel. RAND researchers also examined the comparable experiences of other institutions, domestic agencies, and foreign militaries, as well as how repeal of DADT might affect unit cohesion and military readiness and effectiveness.

Most polling data suggest that a majority of Americans support allowing gay people to serve in the military without restriction. The research concludes that there would be little impact on recruiting and retention of military personnel and on unit cohesion and performance. Current research and the experience during World War II shows that cohesion of combat units comes from the common threat of the enemy, not from prior shared values and attitudes. The majority of gay and lesbian service members who responded to RAND's survey reported that, although they did not talk about their sexual orientation, many unit members already knew that there was a gay service member in their unit. The vast majority indicated that they would remain circumspect in how they make their orientation known to other service members. Many military focus group participants said that they knew gay men and lesbians who were serving and respected their contributions. Many major U.S. allies, including Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, have allowed gay individuals to serve without restriction for a number of years. They report no effect on unit performance or on their ability to meet recruitment goals. No country provides special accommodations for privacy or special training on sexual orientation. Police and fire departments, as well as federal agencies, major corporations, and colleges, all report that they have integrated gay individuals without serious problems and without negative effects on performance — and without making specific accommodations — by applying a strict policy of nondiscrimination.

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Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Overview

  • Chapter Two

    The History of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

  • Chapter Three

    Context: Broad Social Changes and Public Opinion

  • Chapter Four

    Sexual Orientation and Disclosure

  • Chapter Five

    Unit Cohesion and Military Performance

  • Chapter Six

    Potential Effects on Military Recruiting and Retention

  • Chapter Seven

    Health Implications

  • Chapter Eight

    Focus Groups of Military Personnel

  • Chapter Nine

    RAND Survey of Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Military Personnel

  • Chapter Ten

    The Experience of Foreign Militaries

  • Chapter Eleven

    The Experience of Domestic Agencies: Police, Fire, and Federal Agencies

  • Chapter Twelve

    The Experience of Other Domestic Organizations: Corporations and Universities

  • Chapter Thirteen

    Implementation

  • Appendix A

    Insights from the Expanding Role of Women in the Military

The research described in this report was prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The research was conducted within the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by OSD, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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