A new poll measuring Americans' attitudes towards gays in the military reveals significant support for allowing lesbians and gay men to serve openly. Seventy-nine percent of the 1,004 adults surveyed said they believe people who are openly gay should be allowed to serve.
The CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll, conducted December 5-7, found that 91 percent of people aged 18-29 were supportive of allowing gays to serve openly, as were 85 percent of all women, and 73 percent of all men. These numbers represent a significant increase in Americans' support for gay and lesbian servicemembers in recent years.
In August 2003, a poll by Fox News found 64 percent of the public supported gays serving openly in the military, and a 2001 MIT poll placed the figure at 56 percent.
"After 10 years of Don't Ask, Don't tell, the public understands that discrimination undermines military effectiveness," said Geoffrey Bateman, Assistant Director of the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military (CSSMM) at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in a prepared statement.
Approximately 10,000 gay and lesbian servicemembers have been discharged under the policy since its inception in 1993.
Bateman believes the highly publicized firing of nine gay language experts last year may have swayed public opinion about gays in the military. The linguists were proficient in Arabic, a language the military needed expertise in to aid in the U.S. government's war on terror.
"Apparently, the Bush administration thinks the war on terror should take second place to the war on homosexuals," wrote journalist John Aravosis at the time the nine linguists were fired.
According to the CSSMM, almost 40 linguists have been fired over the past two years for being gay or lesbian.
The most recent poll found solid majorities of people in every age group supportive of gays in the military, though older Americans were less supportive than younger ones. Sixty-eight percent of respondents over 65 supported gays serving openly, as did 74 percent of respondents aged 50-64, and 81 percent of people aged 30-49.
The military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue" policy has faced increased public scrutiny and criticism since three high-ranking retired generals came out and protested the policy earlier this month.
U.S. Army brigadier generals Virgil Richard and Keith Kerr, and U.S. Coast Guard (news - web sites) Rear Admiral Alan Steinman disclosed to the New York Times that they were gay and voiced sharp criticism of the practice of excluding openly gay people from serving in the military.
"Because of these policies and because of the need to be secret, I was denied the opportunity to share my life with a loved one and to have a family, or to do all the things that heterosexual Americans take for granted," Steinman said. "That's a pretty big sacrifice to make for the opportunity to serve one's country."
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