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

"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."
  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 quarters.


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:

  • 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;

  • eliminate false stereotypes about gay men and lesbians through education and sensitivity training for all personnel;

  • set uniform standards for public conduct that apply equally to heterosexual and homosexual personnel;

  • deal with sexual harassment as a form of conduct rather than as a characteristic of a class of people, and establish that all sexual harassment is unacceptable regardless of the genders or sexual orientations involved;

  • take a firm and highly publicized stand that violence against gay personnel is unacceptable and will be punished quickly and severely; attach stiff penalties to antigay violence perpetrated by military personnel.

Conclusion 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.
  Military policy page.
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