Recently released data from the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security reveal that the number of troops discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in fiscal year 2010 tallies out at 261, according to Servicemembers United.
The organization released the numbers for FY-2010 — which spans from October 2009 through September 2010 — on Thursday after obtaining the data through a Freedom of Information Act request. According to Servicemembers United, 250 service members were discharged from services run by the Pentagon and 11 service members were discharged from the Coast Guard.
In a statement, Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said the numbers are lower than discharges under the military’s gay ban in previous fiscal years, but demonstrate that gay, lesbian and bisexual troops continued to face expulsion under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” through FY-2010.
“While this latest official discharge number represents an all-time annual low, it is still unusually high considering that the Secretary of Defense issued a directive half-way through the fiscal year to make it much harder for military units to discharge troops under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” Nicholson said. “Despite this law clearly being on its deathbed at the time, 261 more careers were terminated and 261 more lives were abruptly turned upside down because of this policy.”
The 261 number is significantly lower than separations under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in previous fiscal years. According to Servicemembers United, 499 troops were discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in FY-2009, 715 in FY-2008 and 696 in FY-2007.
In a statement, Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, also noted the numbers are lower than they have been in previous years, but added they demonstrate the need for enacting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
“But these numbers underscore the need to accelerate the timeline for training and repeal,” Sarvis said. “The reality is that investigations continue and service members are still in danger of being discharged. … Until we achieve full equality for all LGBT service members, the job is not done.”
In March 2010, the Pentagon unveiled new policy limiting third-party discharges under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and raising the rank of Pentagon officials who could initiate investigations and separations.
In October, Defense Secretary Robert Gates further raised the bar for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” expulsions by limiting the discharge authority to the military service secretaries “in coordination” with the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness and the Pentagon’s general counsel, although this change took place in FY-2011 and isn’t reflected in the FY-2010 numbers.
As a result of the changes in October, Nicholson told the Washington Blade he expects to find no separations under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for FY-2011 when the data from that period is made public.
“DOD has said a couple of times that there have been no discharges since the heightened restrictions were put in place in October,” Nicholson said. “So I would expect the discharge numbers for FY-11 to be zero. I would find it very odd if there was even one discharge in FY-11 based on what the Pentagon has said several times.”
According to Servicemembers United, the official discharge statistics for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” since its inception now stands at 13,686. However, the organization previously discovered that the Pentagon often omits from its official data National Guard separations, which are also excluded from the official FY-2010 numbers. Therefore, the total number of servicemembers discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” according to the organization, now stands at least 14, 316.
In December, President Obama signed legislation allowing for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but this repeal law won’t take effect until 60 days pass after the president, the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify the military is ready for open service. Gates has said he won’t issue certification until training for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal is implemented throughout the services.
The data released by Servicemembers United doesn’t include separations for service members based on gender identity. Transgender troops aren’t discharged under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, but as part of military regulation.
Nicholson said he has “no clue whatsoever” for discharge numbers for transgender troops in FY-2010 or in recent years in the U.S. military.
“That’s not something that anybody has ever tracked to my knowledge,” Nicholson said. “I’m not even sure that DOD tracks that. One of the issues with trans service has always been that the Defense Department classifies it differently than many in the civilian world, especially in the LGBT advocacy world, do. And so it’s not as easy to identify trans service members or identify discharges for gender identity disorder in the military as it is to track trans-related issues in the civilian employment context.”