Out In Force   Out In Force
Sexual Orientation and the Military

Edited by
Gregory M. Herek, Ph.D.
Jared B. Jobe, Ph.D. &
Ralph M. Carney, Ph.D.

(The University of Chicago Press, 1996)


In 1993, the country engaged in a heated national debate about whether the United States military should lift its long-standing ban on service by gay men and lesbians. The compromise eventually reached by President Clinton and the Congress – popularly labeled, "Don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue" – was challenged in the courts, but the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently declined to consider the constitutionality of the policy. Nevertheless, the controversy surrounding this issue is likely to shape national policies and attitudes concerning sexual orientation well into the new millennium.

Table of Contents


Extended Summary

  Both sides in the debate have repeatedly based their arguments on assumptions and predictions about the consequences of integrating gay people into the military. What would be the effect on unit cohesion and morale? How could heterosexuals' privacy concerns be resolved? Would heterosexual personnel follow orders from a gay superior? Are heterosexuals' hostilities toward gay people so entrenched that they cannot be softened or eradicated? Would gay people face isolation or violence?

Out In Force presents a comprehensive review of social science data relevant to these and related questions. Its 15 chapters by some of the nation's leading social science scholars on sexual orientation and the military offer reasoned and dispassionate discussions of what we know about military organizations, human sexuality, and attitudes toward individuals and groups. The contributors are experts on military psychology, lesbian and gay psychology, organizational psychology, social psychology, and clinical psychology. They include five authors who wrote sections of the RAND Corporation's landmark 1993 report to the Secretary of Defense on the current military policy.

Table of Contents
Part One: An Orientation to the Issue

Chapter 1. Social Science, Sexual Orientation, and Military Personnel Policy
Gregory M. Herek

Chapter 2. Sexual Orientation and Proscribed Sexual Behaviors
Janet Lever & David E. Kanouse

Chapter 3. Sexual Orientation and the Military: Some Legal Considerations
Peter D. Jacobson

Part Two: Relevant Experience from Other Domains  

Chapter 4. Integration of Women in the Military: Parallels to the Progress of Homosexuals?
Patricia J. Thomas & Marie D. Thomas

Chapter 5. Applying Lessons Learned From Minority Integration in the Military
Michael R. Kauth & Dan Landis

Chapter 6. The Experiences of Foreign Militaries
Paul A. Gade, David R. Segal, & Edgar M. Johnson

Chapter 7. Lessons Learned From The Experience of Domestic Police and Fire Departments
Paul Koegel

Part Three: Cohesion, Privacy, and Attitudes  

Chapter 8. Sexual Orientation and Military Cohesion: A Critical Review of the Evidence
Robert MacCoun

Chapter 9. The Deconstruction of Stereotypes: Homosexuals and Military Policy
Theodore R. Sarbin

Chapter 10. Why Tell If You're Not Asked? Self-Disclosure, Intergroup Contact, and Heterosexuals' Attitudes Toward Lesbians and Gay Men
Gregory M. Herek

Chapter 11. Sexual Modesty, the Etiquette of Disregard, and the Question of Gays and Lesbians in the Military
Lois Shawver

Part Four: Implementation  

Chapter 12. Issues of Confidentiality: Therapists, Chaplains and Health Care Providers
Jeffrey E. Barnett & Timothy B. Jeffrey

Chapter 13. Implementing Policy Changes in Large Organizations: The Case of Gays and Lesbians in the Military
Gail L. Zellman

Chapter 14. The President, the Congress, and the Pentagon: Obstacles to Implementing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Policy
Lawrence J. Korb

Chapter 15. Conclusion
Gregory M. Herek, Jared B. Jobe, & Ralph Carney

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Extended Summary
Part One: An Orientation to the Issue  

This section contains three chapters that provide a global perspective for the book. In Chapter 1, "Social Science, Sexual Orientation, and Military Personnel Policy," Gregory M. Herek, Ph.D., details the history of military policy about homosexuality, particularly the assumption that homosexuality is incompatible with military service because of its undermining effects on good order and discipline. He argues that the current Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue policy is not about gay people. Rather, its focus is heterosexual military personnel and their attitudes toward serving with lesbians and gay men.

Chapter 2, "Sexual Orientation and Proscribed Sexual Behaviors," is written by Janet Lever, Ph.D., and David E. Kanouse, Ph.D., two authors of the 1993 RAND Corporation report. They describe scientific research on the prevalence of homosexuality and various sexual practices in the general population and consider the extent to which homosexual status and conduct are not synonymous.

The third chapter in this section, "Sexual Orientation and the Military: Some Legal Considerations," is written by Peter D. Jacobson, J.D., a legal scholar who contributed to the RAND report. He concludes that the courts generally defer to the military on a wide range of issues and therefore are reluctant to treat homosexuals as a protected class. As a result, arguments that homosexuals have constitutional protections for serving in the armed forces are not likely to succeed. He notes, however, that a legal trend toward an active rational basis test may result in greater judicial scrutiny, thereby compelling the military to justify restrictions based on homosexual status more than in the past.

Part Two: Relevant Experience from Other Domains   This section includes four chapters describing integration experiences in other domains that have direct relevance to the issue of integrating gays into the U.S. military. Chapter 4 " Integration of Women in the Military: Parallels to the Progress of Homosexuals?," is written by Patricia J. Thomas, M.S., and Marie D. Thomas, Ph.D., psychologists who are experts on women's roles in the military. They discuss parallels between recent arguments against military service by openly gay personnel and arguments offered in the 1940s against integrating women into the military. In both cases, opponents contended that integration would lead to reductions in military efficiency, spread sexually transmitted diseases, increase sexual harassment and fraternization, violate physical privacy, and destroy order and discipline. The chapter describes how the military positions that women could occupy have been greatly restricted, and explains how restrictions on naval and air combat service by women have recently been relaxed. Implications for the integration of gays are discussed.

Chapter 5, "Applying Lessons Learned From Minority Integration in the Military," is written by Michael R. Kauth, Ph.D., a psychologist at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in New Orleans, and Dan Landis, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Mississippi, who has spent his career conducting research on race relations and racial integration, particularly within the military. The chapter traces the history of segregation and equal opportunity for African Americans in the military from the Civil War through World War II. The authors explain that President Truman's 1948 integration order was issued against a backdrop of fears: of an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases; of an increase in violence and crime; of disruption to morale, order, and discipline; and of a mass exodus by Whites from the military. They also describe the fight for equality in the military by African Americans during the Korean and Vietnam conflicts and the establishment of an Army Institute for education and research in race relations. Finally, the authors discuss the reasons why racial integration has been relatively successful, and they consider possible parallels for the integration of gays in the military.

Chapter 6, "The Experience of Foreign Militaries," is contributed by Paul A. Gade, Ph.D., David R. Segal, Ph.D., and Edgar M. Johnson, Ph.D. It provides a cross-national comparison of the policies of Western democracies on military service by gays, which range from a ban similar to that in the United States (United Kingdom) to strong advocacy of gay rights (the Netherlands). The authors also compare and contrast the conclusions of previous reviews of cross-national policies by the U.S. General Accounting Office, the Department of Defense, and the RAND Corporation. The chapter includes a discussion of the experiences of countries that have changed their personnel policies to allow homosexuals to serve, the methods used to implement those changes, and the means by which problems were resolved. Finally, the chapter discusses the implications of the foreign military experience for the future integration of gays into the U.S. military.

Chapter 7, "Lessons Learned From the Experience of Domestic Police and Fire Departments," is contributed by psychologist Paul Koegel, Ph.D., who wrote the section of the RAND Corporation report on this same subject. Although examining the experiences of foreign militaries (Chapter 6) offers many insights, it nevertheless requires comparison of different cultures that may be dissimilar in many respects apart from their military establishment. This is not a problem when the experiences of U.S. paramilitary organizations – such as police and fire departments – are examined. Chapter 7 considers the extent to which U.S. military and paramilitary organizational experiences are analogous, and describes how some domestic paramilitary organizations have implemented policies that allow gays to serve and have overcome problems initially associated with implementing those policies.

Part Three: Cohesion, Privacy, and Attitudes   This section contains four chapters that focus principally on using social psychological research to evaluate arguments against a nondiscriminatory policy and to guide implementation of such a policy. Chapter 8, "Sexual Orientation and Military Cohesion: A Critical Review of the Evidence," is contributed by Robert MacCoun, Ph.D., associate professor of public policy at the Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. Drawing from his earlier contributions to the 1993 RAND report, Prof. MacCoun reviews the existing scientific literature concerning unit cohesion and its relationship to performance. He explains that the concept of cohesion has multiple facets: horizontal cohesion (among peers in a unit) and vertical cohesion (between unit leaders and followers), task cohesion (shared commitment to achieving a goal) and social cohesion (emotional bonds among unit members). After reviewing relevant scientific studies, he concludes that the presence of openly gay personnel would probably not affect task cohesion, but might have a negative effect on social cohesion in some situations. Moreover, he concludes that openly gay unit leaders may not always be liked, but would be obeyed in most cases. He explains how military norms, roles, regulations, and disciplinary options could be used to ensure that a nondiscriminatory policy would not have a negative effect on the military's functioning.

Chapter 9, "The Deconstruction of Stereotypes: Homosexuals and Military Policy," is contributed by Theodore R. Sarbin, Ph.D., who is professor emeritus at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and is currently affiliated with the Defense Personnel Security Research Center (PERSEREC). A distinguished social psychologist whose career spans more than half a century, Dr. Sarbin co-authored a controversial Pentagon-funded report in 1989 in which he concluded that the military's anti-gay policy is based on unfounded stereotypes rather than on empirical facts. That earlier report provides the starting point for Dr. Sarbin's chapter in the present volume. After discussing the history of the report, he explains the social construction of homosexuality and the nature of anti-gay stereotypes. Next, he considers the task of deconstructing stereotypes, illustrating his main points with data from interviews that he has conducted with service members. Finally, he explains how current knowledge about stereotypes could be utilized by the military in implementing a nondiscriminatory policy.

Chapter 10, "Why Tell If You’re Not Asked? Self-Disclosure, Intergroup Contact, and Heterosexuals’ Attitudes Toward Lesbians and Gay Men," by Gregory M. Herek, Ph.D., explores the scientific literature relevant to the question of why gay men and lesbians disclose their sexual orientation to others. It demonstrates that statements revealing one’s sexual orientation are common and unremarkable among heterosexuals. When gay people make similar statements, however, they are often perceived to have revealed inappropriately intimate information about themselves. Such revelations, however, have important social, psychological, and health benefits. Reviewing public opinion data and social psychological studies of heterosexuals' attitudes toward gay men and lesbians, Dr. Herek demonstrates that heterosexuals who have had interpersonal contact with a gay person are significantly more likely to have positive feelings toward gay men and lesbians generally than are heterosexuals without such experiences. Moreover, he argues, contact is associated with favorable attitudes primarily when it meets certain conditions: When it is ongoing, when it is intimate rather than impersonal, and when the gay person's sexual orientation is directly disclosed or discussed. Dr. Herek explains how the current military policy prevents such contact from occurring and, consequently, perpetuates negative attitudes among heterosexual personnel.

Chapter 11, "Sexual Modesty, the Etiquette of Disregard, and the Question of Gays and Lesbians in the Military," is written by Lois Shawver, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Oakland (CA) and author of And the Flag Was Still There: Straight People, Gay People, and Sexuality in the U.S. Military. Dr. Shawver confronts the military's assertions that military life will be disrupted and morale lowered if heterosexuals are forced to share latrines and barracks with openly gay troops. She uses cross-cultural and historical data to demonstrate that American standards of bodily modesty are shaped by culture and individual experience, and that individuals are able to adapt to novel situations in which they have little or no privacy in dressing or toileting. She describes the "etiquette of disregard" by which heterosexuals and homosexuals alike typically exercise discretion in medical settings, dormitories, art classes with nude models, and locker rooms. Shawver predicts that heterosexual and homosexual personnel will successfully adapt to an integrated armed forces if military leaders ensure that toileting and showering situations are desexualized.

Part Four: Implementation   Part 4 contains three chapters discussing issues of implementing a new policy for homosexuals in the United States military. Chapter 13, "Issues of Confidentiality: Therapists, Chaplains, and Health Care Providers," is written by Jeffrey R. Barnett, Psy.D., and Timothy B. Jeffrey, Ph.D. It discusses the juxtaposition of professional ethics in the health and counseling professions – such as psychotherapy, pastoral counseling, and health care – and military requirements that commanders be informed about all aspects of the lives of their soldiers, sailors, and airmen that may affect the latter's ability to perform their military mission. It discusses the dual pressures exerted on military professionals by ethical codes and military regulations, as well as the effects of possible changes in confidentiality policies for helping professionals in the military.

Chapter 13, "Implementing Policy Changes in Large Organizations: The Case of Gays and Lesbians in the Military," is contributed by Gail L. Zellman, Ph.D., a psychologist, who wrote on this subject for the RAND report. Dr. Zellman discusses the factors that favor or hinder implementation of policy changes concerning homosexuals' service in the military. She also reviews the relevant research literature on implementing changes in large organizations. Dr. Zellman discusses how policy changes can be implemented. She considers not only on the Clinton administration's policy, but also a new policy that would set clear standards of conduct to be uniformly enforced for all military personnel. Such a policy would consider sexual orientation per se to be "not germane" to decisions about who can serve in the armed forces.

Chapter 14, "The President, the Congress, and the Pentagon: Obstacles to Implementing the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Policy," is by Lawrence J. Korb, Ph.D., senior policy analyst at the Brookings Institution. Dr. Korb was a senior manpower official in the Department of Defense during the Reagan administration, and he played a role in developing the incompatibility policy. He later changed his position on this policy. In his chapter, he presents an insider’s view of the events leading up to the Clinton administration's military personnel policy.

The conclusion, written jointly by the editors, summarizes the book's major conclusions and discusses implications for the future. It integrates the previous chapters' discussions of empirical social science research and concludes that allowing homosexuals to serve in the military is not only possible, but workable and justifiable.

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