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Gender disparity shown in 'don't ask, don't tell' policy

Women are far more likely to be discharged under the controversial military rule on sexual orientation, according to government data. Critics say the disparity reflects sexism.

October 09, 2009|Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Women are far more likely than men to be kicked out of the military under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy against gays in uniform, according to government figures released Thursday. Critics of the policy said the disparity reflects deep-seated sexism in the armed forces.

Women accounted for 15% of all active-duty and reserve members of the military but more than a third of the 619 people discharged last year because of their sexual orientation.

The disparity was particularly striking in the Air Force, where women represented 20% of personnel but 61% of those expelled in 2008. That is a significant jump from the previous year and marks the first time women in any branch of the military constituted a majority of those dismissed under "don't ask, don't tell," researchers said.

Researcher Nathaniel Frank of UC Santa Barbara's Palm Center -- a think tank that specializes in gender, sexuality and the military -- said one partial explanation is that homosexuality is more common among women in the service than among men.

But Frank and some women who served in the military said the gap could also be a result of "lesbian-baiting" rumors and investigations that arise when women rebuff sexual overtures from male colleagues.

Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said officials would not speculate on the reason for the disparity.

Under the 1993 policy, gay men and lesbians in the military cannot be investigated or punished as long as they keep their sexual orientation to themselves. The policy has led to the discharge of about 13,000 service members.

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