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A new poll conducted by Zogby International indicates that a large majority of enlisted soldiers are not opposed to gays serving in the military. The poll also indicates that many within the military are already aware of fellow soldiers that are gay and that they do not present problems.
Nearly one in four U.S. troops (23%) say they know for sure that someone in their unit is gay or lesbian, and of those 59% said they learned about the person's sexual orientation directly from the individual, a Zogby International poll of troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan shows.
More than half (55%) of the troops who know a gay peer said the presence of gays or lesbians in their unit is well known by others. According to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, service members are not allowed to say that they are gay.
In light of the need for more troops, especially those trained in linguistics, it appears that those soldiers currently serving are able to see the benefits that their gay counterparts bring to the military. It seems to me that the growing acceptance in the military mirrors that found in society and that is accelerated once heterosexuals encounter homosexuals in normal settings absent the preconceived prejudices that are put forward by those who would prefer to portray gays as negatively as possible.
In that regard, I have always felt that the best way to break down existing barriers is for gays to come out and live their lives openly so that heterosexuals can see that gays are no different than heterosexuals...they have the same hopes and dreams...they love their country...and they frequently hold the same values. The sexual aspect of their lives is just that...a small portion of the entire person.
The Zogby Interactive poll of 545 troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan was designed in conjunction with the Michael D. Palm Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and conducted by Zogby Oct. 24-26, 2006. It carries a margin of error of +/- 4.3 percentage points.
Of those in combat units, 21% said they know for certain that someone in their unit is gay or lesbian, slightly less than for those in combat support units (25%) and combat service support units (22%). One in five troops (20%) in other units said they know for certain someone is gay or lesbian in their unit. Overall, nearly half (45%) say there are people in their unit they suspect are gay or lesbian, but they don't know for sure. Slightly more than half (52%) say they have received training on the prevention of anti-gay harassment in the past three years. But 40% say they have not received this type of training, which is mandated by Defense Department policy.
The data also indicate that military attitudes about homosexuality have shifted. In the early 1990's, many senior officers argued that U.S. troops could not form bonds of trust with gays and lesbians, according to Dr. Aaron Belkin, Director of the Palm Center, who has written widely on the subject. According to the new Zogby data, however, nearly three in four troops (73%) say they are personally comfortable in the presence of gays and lesbians. Of the 20% who said they are uncomfortable around gays and lesbians, only 5% are "very" uncomfortable, while 15% are "somewhat" uncomfortable. Just two percent of troops said knowing that gays are not allowed to serve openly was an important reason in their decision to join the military.
Some troops believe the integration of openly gay and lesbian service members in the military could undermine cohesion, but those who know at least one gay peer are less likely to believe it would negatively impact morale. Of those who know a gay or lesbian peer, 27% said it has a negative impact on the morale of their unit. By contrast, among those who do not know of a gay or lesbian person in their unit, or are unsure of their presence, 58% said it would have a negative impact on their unit.
This data supports my contention. Clearly, when those in the military have encountered a gay individual, their fears and concerns are diminished. As with most fears, they are overcome by exposure to that which is feared whereby reality is allowed to prevail over anxiety and preconceived notions. The fact that many religions demonize gays only serves to heighten the fears and to exaggerate the differences. The sooner barriers can be removed the sooner we can share in our similarities and find the common ground that is needed to create cohesion. That is true in our civilian lives as well as in military life. At a time when we need good soldiers, it seems absurd to be dismissing them for simply being gay.
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