Gay discharges on rise, group says

Pentagon let about 10% more go in '05, gay rights advocacy group's figures show


WASHINGTON -- The Defense Department discharged 726 service members last year for being gay, up about 10 percent from 2004, figures released by a gay rights group show.

The group, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, obtained the information through a Freedom of Information Act request. A spokeswoman for the Defense Department, Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, confirmed that it had released the information.

Yesterday, the legal group released a breakdown of discharges by installation. A sharp increase occurred at Fort Campbell, Ky., where in 1999 a soldier was bludgeoned to death in his barracks by fellow soldiers who thought that he was homosexual. In 2004, 19 service members from that base were discharged, and the number climbed to 49 last year.

Fort Sill, Okla., had 27 dismissals last year, up from eight in 2004. Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., had 60 dismissals, up from 40 in 2004. And the Marine base at Parris Island, S.C., discharged 22, up from 12.

The Army, by far the largest branch, discharged the most gay personnel last year, 386, the figures show, followed by the Navy with 177, the Air Force with 88 and the Marines, the smallest force, with 75.

The overall number of men and women dismissed because they were found to be gay or because they disclosed their sexuality, had fallen from 2002 through 2004. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the discharge rate has dropped 40 percent.

The total of such discharges in 2004 was 653, down from 770 in 2003, 885 in 2002 and 1,227 in 2001.

Under a policy introduced during the Clinton administration, known as "don't ask, don't tell," the military cannot inquire into service members' sex lives unless there is evidence of homosexual conduct.

Those who volunteer the information must be discharged. More than 11,000 members have been discharged for that reason, the legal group said.

In a review by the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, the Pentagon said last year that more service members were discharged for drug offenses, pregnancy and weight problems than for being gay.

"The Department of Defense policy on homosexual conduct in the military implements a federal law enacted in 1993 following extensive hearings and debate," Krenke said. "The law would need to be changed to affect the department's policy."

The military has argued that allowing openly gay troops would disrupt unit cohesion and undermine the services' missions. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said the Bush administration would not revisit the policy.

Rep. Martin T. Meehan of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services subcommittee on terrorism, unconventional threats and capabilities, pointed to "the seamless integration of openly gay service members into the militaries of many of our closest allies, namely the United Kingdom, Australia and Israel."

Meehan introduced a bill last year to repeal the policy on gay service members. The bill has 118 supporters, including five Republicans.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.