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Admiral Tells Officers to Boost Efforts to Weed Out Lesbians : Regulations: Commander's memo targets a perception that gay women are more tolerated than gay men.

February 03, 1991|NORA ZAMICHOW | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A top Navy admiral has urged officers in charge of nearly 200 ships and 40 bases to step up their efforts in detecting and discharging lesbians--even though they might be "among the command's top professionals," according to a memo obtained by The Times.

"There is a perception by many that female homosexuality is somewhat tolerated, while male homosexuality is dealt with swiftly and sternly," according to the memo written by Vice Adm. Joseph S. Donnell, commander of the Navy's Atlantic Fleet's surface force, who retired Friday.

"The stereotypical female homosexual is hard-working, career-oriented, willing to put in long hours on the job and among the command's top professionals," Donnell wrote.

"Whatever the reason for this perception that female homosexuality is tolerated in the Navy, it is wrong," Donnell wrote in instructions dated July 24, 1990, and distributed to East Coast Navy bases. "Demonstrate equality in the treatment of male and female homosexuals. The problem won't just go away, so we must deal with it sensibly, and fairly, with due regard for the privacy interests of all."

According to Pentagon regulations, gay men and women are prohibited from joining the armed forces because "homosexual conduct seriously impairs the accomplishment of the military mission" by undermining discipline, order and morale.

In sending out his message, Donnell was "looking for a renewed emphasis on the enforcement of the homosexuality policy. He felt there were abuses going on. He wanted people to be more aware and to pursue trying to get people to comply with the policy," said Lt. Cmdr. Ryland Dodge, a spokesman for the admiral.

Donnell's memo explains why the perception exists that gay women are more readily tolerated than gay men:

* Lesbianism is "often very difficult to prove."

* Male homosexuality "has long been unacceptable, and is usually quickly reported."

* The gay man is "more likely to admit to his homosexuality and accept administrative processing." According to the memo, "Experience has shown that the stereotypical female homosexual in the Navy is more aggressive than her male counterpart, intimidating women who might turn her in."

Activists blasted the Pentagon for the policy of discriminating against gays, and singling out women.

"Even though women are top-level performers, you have to throw them out anyway--that's a mind-boggling, stupid policy, especially in 1990," said Bridget Wilson, a counselor with the Military Law Task Force in San Diego. "It's a rigid military policy that just doesn't deal with the real world. Adultery is a crime--imagine if they tried to get every sailor who committed adultery?"

Jim Woodward, vice president of the San Diego Veterans Assn., said Donnell's directive was "not only anti-gay, but anti-women. It says to go after not only the best but your senior women because they are probably lesbian."

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