February 24, 2010 | by Chris Johnson
Pro-repeal advocates dispute media ‘falsehoods’ supporting ‘Don’t Ask’

A group of 14 pro-repeal advocates have signed a letter in support of an initiative geared toward exposing the falsehoods in the media in support of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The letter touts a report unveiled on Wednesday by Media Matters, a liberal media watchdog group, that argues the media has been “flooded with falsehoods and anti-gay rhetoric to support the dubious argument that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is working.”

“Claims that repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ would adversely affect unit cohesion, retention, or the HIV rate among servicemembers are not based in reality,” the letter states. “Similarly, the anti-gay rhetoric permeating many of these organizations only serves to cheapen the national discussion on this important issue.”

Co-signers of the letter — which include John Aravosis, editor of AMERICAblog; Jarrett Barrios, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation; and Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign — pledge to “be vigilant in ensuring that news reports are accurate and fair.”

A copy of Media Matters’ report accompanies the letter. Here are few snippets:

On the claim that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is “working”:

REALITY: Over 13,500 service members reportedly fired under law, including decorated officers and those in “critical occupations.” According to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a “non-partisan, non-profit, legal services, watchdog and policy organization dedicated to ending discrimination against and harassment of military personnel affected by” the DADT policy, “[m]ore than 13,500 service members have been fired under the law since 1994,” based on Department of Defense data. That number includes numerous decorated officers and, according to a 2005 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, 54 servicemembers who spoke Arabic, and more than 750 servicemembers in “critical occupations.”

Report: Almost 4,000 LGB additional military personnel would have been retained each year if they could serve openly. According to a March 2007 estimate by Gary J. Gates of the Williams Institute, a think tank at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law focused on sexual orientation law and public policy, “an average of nearly 4,000 LGB military personnel each year on active duty or in the guard or reserves would have been retained if they could have been more open about their sexual orientation.”

On the claim the repeal would undermine unit cohesion:

REALITY: Unit cohesion argument “not supported by any scientific studies.” In his award-winning essay, Prakash wrote of DADT: “[T]he stated premise of the law — to protect unit cohesion and combat effectiveness — is not supported by any scientific studies.”

At least 25 nations — including many U.S. allies — allow military service by openly gay men and lesbians. According to the Palm Center, as of February 2010, 25 nations allowed military service by openly gay men and lesbians, including U.S. allies Australia and Israel and the following North America Treaty Organization member countries: Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

On the claim that repeal would put service members at risk to contracting HIV:

REALITY: Military regulations and procedures already exist to address such risks. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, “Since October 1985, the U.S. Department of Defense has routinely tested civilian applicants for military service for serologic evidence of infection with human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1).” Further, U.S. military regulations require continued testing of all active-duty personnel every two years and provide procedures for preventing those who have tested HIV-positive from serving overseas or serving as blood donors.

Study: Allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in other countries did not increase HIV infection rate. In his 2003 Parameters article, Belkin wrote of CSSMM’s study (now the Palm Center), “Not a single one of the 104 experts interviewed believed that the Australian, Canadian, Israeli, or British decisions to lift their gay bans … increased the rate of HIV infection among the troops.”

Download the entire Media Matters report here.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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