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THE TIMES POLL : 74% of Military Enlistees Oppose Lifting Gay Ban

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An overwhelming number of enlisted personnel in the U.S. military oppose President Clinton’s plan to lift a ban on homosexuals in the services and predict widespread violence if openly gay men and lesbians are admitted to their ranks, according to an unprecedented poll of enlisted men and women conducted by The Times.

In the nationwide survey of more than 2,300 enlistees from all three military services and the Marine Corps, 74% of those who responded said they disapprove of a proposed policy change that would allow avowed gay men and lesbians to serve. And 81% predicted that gay GIs would be subjected to physical violence at the hands of their fellow service members.

Opposition to the idea is prevalent across the four major branches and in all the major demographic groups within the military. It varies only slightly by age, gender and race, with older service members, women and blacks only marginally less opposed a lifting of the ban.

While many gay activist groups have compared the controversy to efforts to desegregate the military services in the late 1940s, a majority of blacks appear to reject that reasoning and oppose a lifting of the ban.

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Underlining the strength of opposition in the ranks, 10% of potential military careerists said they would not remain in the service if gays were allowed to serve openly.

The most commonly expressed reasons for the opposition was an unwillingness to share facilities and living quarters with gays, a belief that homosexuality is “immoral,” and fear of the spread of the AIDS virus.

The results of the poll--which was conducted independently of the military services and without the cooperation of the Pentagon--appear to mirror concerns among military leaders that the proposed policy change would disrupt discipline in the ranks at a time when the services are facing some of the most significant challenges to their prestige, their budgets and their autonomy since the end of the Vietnam War.

American public opinion had been roughly split between those who support lifting the ban and those who oppose it. Now, however, sentiment has shifted, with 53% opposed and 40% in favor of lifting the ban, according to a Times poll conducted Feb. 18-19. The survey was supervised by John Brennan, director of The Times Poll.

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But within the military’s ranks, the poll leaves little doubt that the Clinton Administration faces potent opposition if it follows through on its intentions to lift the ban. So controversial has the issue become among the public and lawmakers, that Clinton, who intended to lift the ban shortly after his inauguration through an executive order, was forced to delay while Congress convenes hearings and undertakes studies for the next six months.

The President has vowed to persevere, however, saying, as he did throughout the campaign, that the decades-old ban is discriminatory. He has noted repeatedly that homosexuals, who have generally hidden their sexual orientation to remain in the military, have served ably and should be allowed to do so openly.

As a measure of how deeply enlisted men and women oppose the admission of gays, far more--58%--are willing to see women take up combat roles. Until recently, that issue had also been a highly volatile and divisive one.

Only one issue appears to evoke as much concern among enlistees as lifting the ban--the shrinkage of the military forces in the wake of the end of the Cold War. Of those polled, 52% listed downsizing among the top two problems facing the military today. Almost as many, 48%, listed the prospective lifting of the ban on gays as one of the military’s leading problems.

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The poll results are based on confidential, anonymous, written questionnaires filled out by enlistees, ranging from Army privates to Navy master chief petty officers, from Feb. 11 to 16 in commercial areas and residential housing near 38 military installations across the country. The views of officers, who are more bound by leadership responsibilities, are better educated and more politically attuned than enlistees, were not gathered.

It is not clear whether including officers in the sample would have made for more or less opposition to Clinton’s policies. Because officers are better educated and must follow and enforce the President’s orders, some believe that officers would be slightly less opposed than enlisted men and women to the admittance of openly gay men and lesbians. However, in past polls on issues such as opening combat positions to women, officers have been more resistant than enlisted persons to changes in current policy.

“I would expect at least as much resistance if not more because officers are the ones who will be responsible for the administrative nightmares involved in lifting the ban,” said Martin Binkin, a military personnel expert at the Brookings Institution.

The poll’s sample size of 2,346 enlistees is considered large by normal polling standards. Moreover, the sampling represents accurately the key demographics of the 1.5 million military enlistees in terms of age, race, gender, educational level and service representation.

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Each of the military services conducts surveys among its members for internal planning purposes, and the results of some of those service-sponsored polls are made public. But neither service leaders nor independent pollsters have made extensive efforts to gauge service members’ opinions on a range of issues under heated public debate. The poll by The Times thus represents one of the first efforts of its kind.

In addition to revealing attitudes about gays, the poll also suggests that enlistees have a much lower regard for Clinton--their commander in chief--than does the U.S. population as a whole. Just 37% said they respect Clinton “a great deal” or “a good amount,” and 25% said they respect him “hardly at all,” while 28% responded that they have “some respect"--a low measure of favor--for the new President.

Among the larger U.S. population, Clinton’s favorable ratings are now 63%, with 25% of Americans expressing disfavor for the President.

Only 14% of those polled said they believed the Clinton Administration’s proposals for downsizing the U.S. military “are necessary given the end of the Cold War.” Another 65% warned that the proposed cuts “go too far in a still-dangerous world.”

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The depth of suspicion toward Clinton among enlistees was typified by a 23-year-old Marine truck driver based at the Tustin Marine Air Station. Identified only as Mike, a corporal with four years’ service in the Marine Corps, he spoke with The Times several days after completing a questionnaire.

“I dislike Clinton because he was never in the military. He hates the military, and now he’s commander in chief of the military,” Mike said.

“That, I don’t think, is right. If you’re going to be the commander in chief you should have served some time in the military, even a couple of years. I distrust what he wants to do. It’s a good move to downsize the military, but he’d better not overplay it.”

On the issue of gays in the military, the Times Poll indicates that opposition runs strongest in the Marine Corps, where 86% of those polled said they disapprove of allowing homosexuals in the service; 75% said they “disapprove strongly.” In the Army and Air Force, disapproval rates ran at 74% each.

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Among Navy enlistees, 69% said they disapproved of a change in policy. The Navy also appeared to be the service branch in which the existence of gays in the ranks was most widely acknowledged. About 28% of the sailors polled said they are serving with someone they believe is gay. Fewer of those polled from the Air Force, Army and Marine Corps, (18%, 16% and 10%, respectively) reported that they are serving alongside people they believe are homosexual.

Twenty-nine percent of women say they are serving with a homosexual compared to 18% of men.

When asked to cite reasons for their opposition to a ban, the greatest number of those who disapprove of such a move--63%--said they oppose sharing facilities and quarters with homosexuals. Military leaders such as Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have emphasized that such issues of privacy could be a significant obstacle to the integration of homosexuals.

About 40% of respondents said they oppose lifting the ban because they believe homosexuality is “immoral,” and 28% cited the fear of an increased spread of the AIDS virus if the ban is lifted.

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The opposition is particularly pronounced among the military’s younger members--a finding that appears to fly in the face of assumptions that older generations are less tolerant of homosexuality.

Enlisted members under age 26 indicate somewhat stronger opposition to lifting the ban--responding that they “strongly disapprove” of allowing gays in the military at a rate of roughly 64%. A smaller 53% of those age 26 and older said they “strongly” oppose lifting the ban.

Although women in the military were somewhat less worried by the potential impact of lifting the ban, 55% oppose the change and 71% believe violence is likely.

The strength of military opposition to Clinton’s policy was typified by poll respondent Sgt. Hector Laureano, a 25-year-old patient administrator and former infantryman based at Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri.

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“I just hate to see what’s going to happen if they’re allowed in the military,” said Laureano, who like some others agreed to a follow-up interview. “They’re going to be targets. . . . There’s a lot of anger, a lot of pressure building up right now. A lot of people are stressing over it. I understand both sides, but in the end, I don’t think it’s right. It’s going to disrupt the flow of the Army.”

Several of the survey’s respondents, interviewed by a Times reporter, cited the movie “A Few Good Men,” which dramatizes a violent beating and murder of a sleeping soldier by a group of comrades, in describing how gays would likely be treated.

Others noted that while violence would probably be widespread, military leaders would be ambivalent about stopping it and keen to keep it out of the headlines.

“Because there’s going to be so many mixed emotions by the people in charge and enforcing this, they’re going to be sending mixed signals,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Andrea Clough-Jackson, a 36-year-old computer programmer based at Ft. Benning, Ga. “They’ll say we can’t have bedlam in the ranks, but they’ll put out signals like, ‘I’m not going to punish these guys for beating up a guy I basically believe should get beat up.’ ”

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Clough-Jackson--who is an African-American woman with more than 18 years in the Army--supports lifting the ban on gays. While overall, only 18% of those polled approve lifting the ban, black enlistees backed such a change in policy at a slightly higher rate of 24%. Among women, 35% said they support the opening of the ranks to gays, while just 16% of the men favor the move.

Clough-Jackson’s views also reflect another finding of The Times Poll--that significantly more women than men believe sexual harassment is a serious problem in the services. While 55% of women polled called sexual harassment “very” or “somewhat” serious, 44% of the men polled felt the same, and 48% of men (versus 38% of women) said that problem is not serious.

Among women, lifting the gay ban still outweighed concerns over sexual harassment. Nineteen percent of women cited relations between men and women as a top problem, while 32% cited lifting the ban as the biggest concern.

TIMES POLL: Service’s Views On Gays in Military

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A survey of military enlisted personnel nationwide found eight in 10 believe allowing gays in the service would bring violence from others.

MOST WOULD OBJECT...

How do you feel about lifting the ban on gays in the armed forces? Disapprove: 74% Approve: 18% Don’t know: 8% *

...AND A VIOLENT BACKLASH IS SEEN

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If the ban is lifted, how likely is it that homosexuals will be subjected to violence from others in the service: Likely: 81% Unlikely: 10% Don’t know: 9% *

1 IN 5 BELIEVES GAYS ALREADY THERE

Are you serving with someone whom you believe to be homosexual? Yes: 19% No: 54% Don’t know: 27% Source: Los Angeles Times Poll interviewed 2,346 enlisted men and women, on active duty in the U.S. military services outside of 38 military bases in the continental United States and Hawaii from February 11 to 16, 1993.

THE TIMES POLL: A Closer Look at Who Opposes Lifting Ban

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Here is a breakdown--by branch, sex and race--of how enlistees feel about lifting the ban on gays in the military.

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TOP OBJECTION: SHARING FACILITIES

What are the two main reasons you disapprove of lifting the ban on homosexuals? (asked of 74% who oppose lifting the ban)

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TOP FIVE ANSWERS Oppose sharing facilities/quarters: 63% It is immoral: 40% It will contribute to the spread of AIDS: 28% Against my religious views: 21% Not reliable in combat: 15% *

MARINES HAVE HIGHEST DISAPPROVAL RATE

Approve Disapprove Don’t know MARINES 10% 86% 4% ARMY 15% 74% 11% NAVY 22% 69% 9% AIR FORCE 21% 74% 5%

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WOMEN SOMEWHAT LESS OPPOSED

Approve Disapprove Don’t know MEN 16% 76% 8% WOMEN 35% 55% 10%

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MAJOR ETHNICITIES OPPOSE LIFTING BAN

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Approve Disapprove Don’t know ANGLO 16% 78% 6% BLACK 24% 64% 12% LATINO 12% 76% 12%

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How poll was conducted: The Times Poll interviewed 2,346 enlisted personnel on active duty in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force outside of 38 military bases in the continental United States and Hawaii, from Feb. 11-16. Respondents weere approached by Times interviewers at off-base commercial sites and residence housing and asked to fill out a questionnaire confidentially and anonymously. Each interviewee then placed the completed survey in a sealed envelope for return to The Times. Quota methods were utilized to ensure proper representation of service people within service branch by sex, race and age. The sample was additionally weighted slightly to conform with Department of Defense demographic information for enlistee age, education and marital status. By branch, the sample includes 728 personnel from the Army, 591 from the Navy, 488 from the Marine Corps and 539 from the Air Force. Results for the total sample of enlistees, this type of poll is subject to certain limitations. For example, only those personnel who were present in the targeted areas outside selected bases during the interviewing period had an opportunity to be polled. Additionally, there is no guarantee that the opinions of those who declined to participate in the survey are mirrored by those who agreed to take part.


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