Politics & Government

Historian testifies that gays integrated well elsewhere

If Congress decides to let gay men and lesbians serve openly in the U.S. military, the reaction among the vast majority of troops is likely to be a big collective yawn, a leading historian said Thursday.

Nathaniel Frank, a prominent gay rights advocate and author of “Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America,” testified Thursday at Maj. Margaret Witt’s lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tacoma.

He was called as an expert witness to support Witt’s lawsuit against the U.S. Air Force.

Frank cited dozens of studies of other countries that have incorporated gay men and lesbians into their fighting forces, including Canada, Great Britain, Israel, Germany and Sweden.

In every case, he said, fears about weakened unit cohesion, falling morale, dropping recruitment rates, and heightened harassment and violence preceded the change. Instead, he said, the transitions went so smoothly, people were left wondering what the big deal had been.

“They found that, across the board, problems that had been predicted did not come true,” Frank said.

Studies of integrated police forces and fire departments across this country have shown the same thing, Frank said.

Witt, a popular and highly decorated flight nurse at McChord Air Force Base, was discharged for being a lesbian. She sued the Air Force, and her case has become a nationally watched trial of the government’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Frank’s testimony came on the fourth day of the bench trial, presided over by U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton.

Frank attributed the ease of the transition elsewhere to several factors, including the widespread acceptance of homosexuality among the younger generation of soldiers. Surveys uniformly show that reluctance to accept gay men and lesbians in the military increases directly with age, he said.

“Older cohorts tend to be less tolerant of homosexuality,” he said. “They are more likely to say it is morally wrong and less likely to support law changes.”

For younger soldiers, being acquainted with someone who is attracted to others of the same-sex is so routine it is barely worth comment, he said.

“No one is saying that the U.S. should lift its ban simply to follow other countries,” Frank said. “But research shows that if they lift the ban here, there is no indication they could not do it as successfully as these other countries.”

Frank said the military historically has been dominated by what he called “a warrior culture,” made up of heterosexual males who bonded into effective work groups in part because of commonly held attitudes toward gay men, lesbians and women.

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693 rob.carson@thenewstribune.com