Psychologist Testifies Against Military's
Anti-Gay Ban

Researcher Cites Scientific Evidence That Nondiscriminatory Military Policy Can Be Implemented

    (Davis, CA, May 5, 1993) The current debate surrounding the military's exclusion of gay men and lesbians is based on the mistaken assumption that heterosexuals cannot overcome their own prejudices, a social psychologist told a congressional committee today in Washington, DC.

Gregory Herek, Ph.D., associate research psychologist at the University of California at Davis and a national authority on heterosexuals' attitudes toward lesbians and gay men, testified before the House Armed Services Committee, chaired by Representative Ronald Dellums (D-CA). He appeared during the second day of hearings on the policy implications of lifting the ban on homosexuals in the military.

Dr. Herek testified on behalf of the American Psychological Association (APA) and five other national professional organizations. Those organizations were the American Psychiatric Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Counseling Association, the American Nursing Association, and the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States.

Research Does Not Justify Ban  

In his oral statement before the committee, Dr. Herek summarized scientific opinion, based on his extensive review of published research studies. "The research data show that there is nothing about lesbians and gay men that makes them inherently unfit for military service, and there is nothing about heterosexuals that makes them inherently unable to work and live with gay people in close quarters," said Dr. Herek.

In his testimony, Dr. Herek reviewed existing scientific research concerning issues of unit cohesion and effectiveness and the fitness of lesbians and gay men for military service. He concluded that heterosexual personnel can overcome their prejudices and adapt to living and working in close quarters with lesbians and gay men. Furthermore, he said, lesbians and gay men are not inherently less capable of military service than are heterosexual women and men.

According to Dr. Herek, "Undoubtedly, implementing a new policy will involve challenges that will require careful and planned responses from the military leadership. This has been true for racial and gender integration, and it will be true for integration of open lesbians and gay men. The important point is that such challenges can be successfully met. The real question for debate is whether the military, the government, and the country as a whole are willing to meet them."

Morale and Cohesion

Dr. Herek noted that some members of the military and congress have expressed concern that unit cohesion and morale will be harmed if heterosexual personnel refuse to work and live in close quarters with lesbian or gay male service members. But his review of survey and laboratory data indicated that heterosexuals are fully capable of establishing close interpersonal relationships with gay people. "The assumption that heterosexuals cannot overcome their prejudices toward gay people is a mistaken one," said Dr. Herek.

He pointed out that roughly one American adult in three already knows someone who is openly gay or lesbian, and that heterosexuals who have a close ongoing relationship with a gay man or lesbian tend to express favorable attitudes toward gay people as a group.

"Ongoing interpersonal contact in a supportive environment where common goals are emphasized and prejudice is clearly unacceptable is likely to foster positive feelings toward gay men and lesbians," said Dr. Herek.

Gay Men and Lesbians Not Unfit to Serve  

A second concern raised by the military, according to Dr. Herek, is that lesbians and gay men are unfit for service because they have a propensity to engage in sexual harassment. He noted that although data are not available from the social science literature to test directly whether gay men and lesbians engage in sexual harassment more than do heterosexuals, indirect evidence indicates that they do not.

This indirect evidence includes research showing that lesbians and gay men, as a group, do not differ from heterosexual women and men in their levels of sexual drive and frequency of sexual activity. In addition, Dr. Herek reported that gay men and lesbians are no less able than heterosexuals to control their sexual or romantic urges, refrain from the abuse of power, obey rules and laws, interact effectively with others, or exercise good judgment in handling authority. Dr. Herek also noted that a homosexual orientation is not in any way a mental illness.

Stereotypes and Prejudice  

Dr. Herek cautioned the committee members about accepting statistics on sexuality, especially those that claim to describe the entire population of lesbians and gay men. Much popular discussion about homosexuality is filled with falsehoods and myths, he said, and often these myths are couched in pseudo-scientific jargon and statistics. "They can be easily recited and they often sound convincing," he said, "even when they have no relationship to reality."

Dr. Herek noted that earlier testimony before the committee had included assertions that gay people are child molesters, that they prey on heterosexuals, and that they are obsessed with sex. "Speaking as a scientist who has worked in this area for more than 15 years," said Dr. Herek, "I want to advise you that those statements and the statistics offered to support them are not scientifically valid. Indeed, the vast weight of legitimate scientific research shows that they are simply wrong."

Addressing the question of whether sexual orientation is chosen, Dr. Herek said, "Regardless of whether they are homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual, people generally experience their sexual orientation as an essential part of their core identity -- their sense of who they are, sexually. Scientific research has not established why anyone develops a particular sexual orientation. But we do know that people generally do not choose their sexual orientation. Rather, they discover it and come to understand it through a long developmental process."

Recommendations for Nondiscriminatory Policy   Dr. Herek offered five principal recommendations to the military for implementing a nondiscriminatory policy:

  1. Establish clear norms that sexual orientation is irrelevant to performing one's duty and that everyone should be judged on her or his own merits.

  2. Eliminate false stereotypes about gay men and lesbians through education and sensitivity training for all personnel.

  3. Set uniform standards for public conduct that apply equally to heterosexual and homosexual personnel.

  4. Deal with sexual harassment as a form of conduct rather than as a characteristic of a class of people. Establish that all sexual harassment is unacceptable, regardless of the genders or sexual orientations of individuals involved.

  5. Take a firm and highly publicized stand that violence against gay personnel is unacceptable and will be punished quickly and severely. Attach added penalties to antigay violence perpetrated by military personnel.
  Read the full text of Dr. Herek's oral statement.
  Return to Dr. Herek's biographical sketch
  Return to military policy page.
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