Oral Statement of Gregory M. Herek, Ph.D
to the House Armed Services Committee
Made on behalf of the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association, National Association of Social Workers, American Counseling Association, American Nursing Association, and the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States
|Mr. Chairman and
members of the Committee, I am pleased to have the
opportunity to appear before you today to provide
testimony on the policy implications of lifting the ban
on homosexuals in the military. I am testifying on behalf
of the American Psychological Association (APA), as well
as 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 (SIECUS). I want to thank you for addressing your
attention to this matter.
My name is Gregory Herek and I am a social psychologist. I earned my Ph.D. from the University of California at Davis in 1983, and was a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University. Before returning to the University of California at Davis to assume my present position as a research psychologist, I was a member of the faculty at Yale and at the Graduate School of the City University of New York.
I have been conducting empirical research on topics related to sexual orientation for more than 15 years, with a special emphasis on heterosexuals' attitudes toward and opinions about lesbians and gay men. I have published more than a dozen empirical and theoretical articles on this and related topics in peer-reviewed academic journals.
My written testimony to the Committee summarizes the
results of an extensive review of the relevant published
research from the social and behavioral sciences. That
review is lengthy. However, I can summarize its
conclusions in a few words: 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
Before I expand on those conclusions, I would like
briefly to define some terms. By gay men and lesbians,
I mean people whose personal identity includes an
understanding of themselves as primarily attracted to
others of their own gender in their romantic and sexual
relationships. Heterosexuals are individuals whose
personal identity includes a primary sexual and romantic
attraction to persons of the other gender. Bisexuals
are people with significant attractions to both genders.
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 whether they are heterosexual, homosexual, or
bisexual people generally do not choose their sexual
orientation. Rather, they discover it and come to
understand it through a long developmental process.
With these definitions in mind, I would like to
address two questions that have been raised repeatedly in
the current discussion surrounding the military ban on
service by gay men and lesbians.
Gay Men and Lesbians Are Not Unfit To Serve
The first question is whether lesbians and gay men are inherently unfit for service. In the current debate, some consensus seems to have been reached that gay people are just as competent, just as dedicated, and just as patriotic as their heterosexual counterparts. However, questions still are raised concerning whether the presence of openly gay military personnel would create a heightened risk for sexual harassment, favoritism, or fraternization.
Obviously, data are not available to address these questions directly because the current policy has made collection of such data impossible in the military. However, based on research conducted with civilians, as well as reports from quasi-military organizations in the United States (such as police and fire departments) and the armed forces of other countries, there is no reason to expect that gay men and lesbians would be any more likely than heterosexuals to engage in sexual harassment or other prohibited conduct. We know that a homosexual orientation is not associated with impaired psychological functioning; it is not in any way a mental illness. In addition, there is no valid scientific evidence to indicate that gay men and lesbians are less able than heterosexuals to control their sexual or romantic urges, to refrain from the abuse of power, to obey rules and laws, to interact effectively with others, or to exercise good judgment in handling authority.
It is important to recognize that homosexuals are the targets of considerable prejudice and stigma in the United States today. Consequently, much popular discussion about homosexuality is filled with falsehoods and myths. Often these myths are couched in pseudo-scientific jargon and statistics.
I am informed that you heard many assertions and statistics yesterday concerning homosexuality: that gay people are child molesters, that they prey on heterosexuals, that they are obsessed with sex. Speaking as a scientist who has worked in this area for more than 15 years, 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.
I will be happy to answer any specific questions that
the Committee might have about those myths and
stereotypes. From the outset, I urge you to be cautious
in accepting statistics about sexuality, especially those
that claim to describe the entire population of lesbians
and gay men. They can be easily recited and they often
sound convincing, even when they have no relationship to
reality. They should always be critically scrutinized on
their scientific merits. I hope that one of the principal
services that I can provide to the Committee will be to
provide such a scientific perspective.
Concerns About Morale and Cohesion
The second question I would like to address is whether unit cohesion and morale would be harmed if personnel known to be gay were allowed to serve. Would heterosexual personnel refuse to work and live in close quarters with lesbian or gay male service members? This question reflects a recognition that stigma leads many heterosexuals to hold false stereotypes about lesbians and gay men and unwarranted prejudices against them.
As with the first question, we do not currently have
data that directly answer questions about morale and
cohesion. We do know, however, that heterosexuals are
fully capable of establishing close interpersonal
relationships with gay people and that as many as
one-third of the adult heterosexual population in the
U.S. has already done so. We also know that heterosexuals
who have a close ongoing relationship with a gay man or a
lesbian tend to express favorable and accepting attitudes
toward gay people as a group. And it appears that 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. Thus, the assumption that
heterosexuals cannot overcome their prejudices toward gay
people is a mistaken one.
In summary, neither heterosexuals nor homosexuals appear to possess any characteristics that would make them inherently incapable of functioning under a nondiscriminatory military policy. In my written testimony, I have offered a number of recommendations for implementing such a policy. I would like to mention five of the principal recommendations here.
The military should:
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.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I will be happy to answer any questions that members of the committee might have.
|Return to:||Press release about Dr. Herek's testimony.|
|Dr. Herek's biographical sketch.|
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