Despite Media Coverage, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” Hit Women Hardest

Yesterday was an historic day: Don’t Ask Don’t Tell officially ended, making gays and lesbians able to serve openly in the U.S. military. More than 14,000 members of the armed forces had been dismissed based on their sexual orientation since the law was enacted in 1993. It’s a huge step forward, and naturally it’s a huge news story, too. The Washington Post reported on a midnight wedding between a Navy officer and his partner. A powerful video in which a soldier based in Ramstein Air Base in Germany calls up his father to come out of the closet became an instant hit online. And a former Army officer named Dan Choi has been the most prominent face of the activist movement throughout the past several years of DADT coverage. All this coverage might make you think that gay men will be the ones primarily affected by the change – but you’d be wrong.

According to figures released last year, women were far likelier to be discharged for their sexuality than men were. In 2009, women made up just 14% of Army soldiers, for example, but they received almost half of the DADT-based discharge orders. In the Marines, women make up 6% of the corps but 23% of the discharges.

These numbers are right in line with previous years. In 2008, women made up 15% of over-all active duty forces, but more than a third of those dismissed for sexual orientation. The year before that, women still made up about 15% of Army and Air Force members but almost half the DADT dismissals.

There could be several reasons for this. A researcher at the Palm Center, a California organization that studies gays and the military, told an AP reporter last year that women in the military are more likely to be gay than their military male counterparts. (It’s a crude comparison, but think about how much farther ahead lesbian athletes are than gay male athletes, an issue addressed in a moving recent piece in New York magazine.) Other factors could be that women who rebuff male advances, or who are not conventionally feminine, are targeted disproportionately by investigations.

So where are their stories? They’re out there. The Huffington Post published a great profile of several women whose careers suffered because of the policy. They include a star West Point student who resigned because she was sick of leading a double life. (Check out her powerful resignation letter here.) More of this is sure to come out over the next days, weeks, and months. Now that these women don’t have to be afraid, they can start telling their stories.

Photo: Vasiliy Koval /

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