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Cohen Adds 'Don't Harass' to Homosexual Policy, Says it Can Work

By Linda D. Kozaryn and Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 29, 1999 – Defense Secretary William S. Cohen has expanded the description of the "don't ask, don't tell" homosexual policy to "don't ask, don't tell, don't harass."

Defense leaders are determined to make the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy on homosexuals in the military work. "I think it's an over generalization to say it's not working," Cohen said during a recent trip to Italy and the Balkans. "What we need to do is make sure it's successfully implemented."

The recent DoD actions are designed to stress the "don't harass" portion of the policy. The actions, announced in August, tasked the services to incorporate in their training stronger language against harassment. "Harassment on the basis of sexual orientation is wrong, just as it's wrong on the basis of race or religion or whether a person is male or female," said Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon during a news conference.

One DoD memo requires that DoD guidance on the homosexual policy be "effectively disseminated to all levels of command" and be made part of training programs for law enforcement personnel, commanders and supervisors. The memo also requires the instruction be incorporated into recruit training and for service members to attend refresher training thereafter.

A second memo seeks to institute consistent and fair application of the policy. It recommends installation staff judge advocates consult with senior legal officers prior to the initiation of an investigation into alleged homosexual conduct.

The services will present their proposals to Rudy de Leon, defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness, on Jan. 17. De Leon also asked the service leaders to issue strong statements that harassment of service members for any reason, to include alleged or perceived homosexuality, will not be tolerated. Service leaders will direct commanders to take prompt, appropriate action against individuals involved in such harassment. These statements, too, are due Jan. 17.

"So once again, it's an effort to emphasize that the policy should be described as "don't ask, don't tell, don't harass," and to put some backbone in the "don't harass" part of the policy," Bacon said.

The August directions grew out of a 1997 memo on the subject. Many people had complained that if they come to a commander and say they're being charged with being homosexual for whatever reason, that the commander has then used this were making a "statement" of their homosexuality.

"The 1997 memo says this is wrong," Bacon said. "You cannot take a complaint from a soldier about harassment to be evidence of homosexuality. In fact, what the commander should do is investigate the harasser, the person who is harassing the soldier or making the complaint."

The "don't ask, don't tell" policy grew out of recommendations DoD made in 1993. In 1993, Congress passed Title X Chapter 37 Section 654 -- "Policy concerning homosexuality in the armed forces." That law and sense of Congress is the basis for the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

The addition of "don't harass" grew from years of military experience. "You treat all service members with respect," said a defense official. "Harassment, for whatever reason, is not conducive to good order and discipline."

As a result of complaints of harassment and the murder of a soldier thought to be homosexual at Fort Campbell, Ky., Cohen ordered the DoD Inspector General to assess the command climate of installations in regard to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The IG will also judge the extent to which disparaging speech or expression with respect to sexual orientation occurs or is tolerated by individuals in the chain of command, defense officials said.

In fiscal 1998, the most recent statistics available, the services discharged 1,145 service members under the policy. More than 85 percent of those discharged were "statement" cases, DoD officials said.

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