Air Force Says Gay Discharges Up
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Air Force reported on Friday a one-third increase in gay discharges last year, and suggested many were declaring their homosexuality as a way to secure a quick discharge.
More than half the 414 discharges were at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas where new recruits do their six weeks of basic training. In the vast majority of cases throughout the Air Force the person voluntarily stated that he or she was gay, Air Force officials said.
Last year’s gay discharge figures for the Army, Navy and Marine Corps were not immediately available.
``In virtually every self-initiated disclosure, the second statement made is, `I’d also like to be discharged,‴ said David Smith, an Air Force spokesman at Air Education and Training Command at Randolph, Texas.
Smith said commanders are legally prohibited from questioning Air Force members about such voluntary statements. ``You kind of have to take them at their word,″ Smith said.
T’jae Gibson, an Air Force spokeswoman at the Pentagon, said a review of discharges at Lackland last year found that most instructors and trainees there believed the acknowledgments of homosexuality were made to escape the service.
A watchdog of the Pentagon’s controversial policy on gays in the military, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, on Friday disputed the Air Force’s suggestion that some people are using the gay prohibition as an excuse to get out of their contractual obligation to the service.
``They’re just trying to make excuses to sweep under the carpet what’s going on there,″ said Dixon Osburn, co-executive director of the watchdog group. He said the Air Force has failed to produce hard evidence that false declarations of homosexuality are being made.
Those dismissed for homosexuality receive an administrative discharge, which does not carry a bad-conduct stigma. It is one of the few circumstances in which a recruit may get out without penalty; other cases are those in which a serious medical problem surfaces after entering basic training or in some instances of false enlistment statements.
In 1994, the Pentagon adopted a gay policy _ known as ``don’t ask, don’t tell″ _ that is supposed to allow gays to serve if they keep their sexual orientation private. It punishes those who engage in homosexual acts or take actions that call attention to their orientation. The Pentagon had been accused of hunting down gays and driving them out of the service.
If a service member voluntarily states his or her homosexuality, discharge is automatic.
Smith, the spokesman for the Air Force’s training command, said Gen. Lloyd Newton, chief of the command, has made recommendations to Air Force headquarters and to the Defense Department on ways to deal with the growing number of voluntary statements of homosexuality. Smith would not discuss any aspect of Newton’s recommendation.
Last April, the Pentagon released a report on enforcement of its gay policy. It said early discharges based on voluntary statements of homosexuality occurred most often in the Air Force, where 212 of the 309 Air Force gay discharges in 1997 occurred in basic training.
In that report, the Pentagon said ``the reasons for this increase are not known and would be difficult to ascertain.″
In 1998, 271 of the 414 gay discharges in the Air Force were at Lackland’s basic training site. And of the 414 cases, 391 were based on voluntary statements, the Air Force said. Twenty-two cases last year were initiated by witness reports of homosexual acts, and there was one case in which two female Air Force members were discharged for declaring marriage plans.