The U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy was supposed to allow gays, lesbians and bisexuals to serve in the armed forces as long as they kept their sexuality a private matter. But at Fort Carson and throughout the nation, the number of homosexuals discharged from the military has kept growing ever since the policy was signed into law by President Clinton in 1993.
Last year at Fort Carson, 19 soldiers were discharged from the Army for being gay, lesbian or bisexual, according to numbers obtained from the Pentagon by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a group that advocates allowing gays to serve openly in the military. That's nearly double the number from the previous year, when there were 10 such discharges, and almost four times the number in 1997, when there were five.
At the U.S. Air Force Academy, no cadets have been discharged for being homosexual in at least five years, and no active-duty service members have been discharged for being gay in at least three years, according to a spokesman. Numbers for Peterson Air Force Base and Schriever Air Force Base were not available by press time.
The increase at Fort Carson reflects a national trend. According to the SLDN, the nationwide number of gay discharges has grown steadily from 617 in 1994, to 1,250 last year.
The group's executive director, C. Dixon Osburn, said the numbers show the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy has failed. After Clinton ran into opposition in trying to reverse the military's ban on gays, he agreed to the compromise policy, under which officers would no longer ask recruits and service members about their sexuality, and gay service members would theoretically be allowed to serve as long as they kept their sexuality private.
According to Osburn, the policy is widely being disregarded.
"The idea of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is a myth," Osburn said. "The Pentagon continues to ask and pursue and harass every day, which means that any of the promises that were made have gone by the wayside."
The discharges amount to a waste of human resources during a time when America is engaged in a crucial war against terrorism, Osburn said. The SLDN estimates the real cost of gay discharges at more than $35 million per year.
Col. Jim Cassella, a Pentagon spokesman, questioned the notion that the number of gay discharges is growing. While the absolute number has increased slightly in the past few years, the number of active-duty service members and overall discharges has also increased slightly, he noted. As a proportion of all discharges, gay discharges have actually leveled off in the past few years at about 0.6 percent, Cassella said.
Cassella noted that while wasting human resources may be regrettable, Congress has determined that "service by those who have a propensity to engage in homosexual acts creates an unacceptable risk to morale, good order, discipline and unit cohesion."
"The policy is based in law," Cassella said. "We have our marching orders, so to speak, from Congress."
Cassella said the military regularly trains service members on the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and actively discourages all types of harassment.
"We expect all service members to be treated with dignity and respect," Cassella said.
Those who are discharged are people who violate the policy by coming out, he suggested.
"If they didn't violate [the] policy, they wouldn't be discharged," he said.
Kim Tisor, a spokeswoman for Fort Carson, said she couldn't comment on the SLDN's statistics for the base without verifying them, which she was unable to do by press time. However, she said, "We follow U.S. military policy and directives no matter what they may be."
-- Terje Langeland