U.S. Forces Still Ousting Gays

WASHINGTON -- Two years after the Clinton administration put in place a policy it said would make it easier for homosexuals to serve in the military, more gay service members are being discharged than before it took effect.

The Defense Department discharged 722 gay service members in fiscal 1995, compared with 597 in 1994 and 682 the year before that, according to Pentagon figures.

Anecdotal evidence and Pentagon documents collected by a leading gay legal defense organization also suggest that some military investigators and commanders are not only ignoring provisions of the policy but pursuing wide-ranging inquiries aimed at identifying members suspected of being homosexual.

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network said Tuesday it had documented 363 cases in the last year in which military officials violated the policy by asking members about sexual orientation or harassed members suspected of being gay.

Some of those cases include military commanders who went on retaliatory "witch hunts" against women who complained of sexual harassment or misconduct by male colleagues, the group alleged.

If the military "really stopped asking and really stopped harassing we would not see the number of discharges go up," said Michelle Benecke, co-director of the Network and a former Army captain.

Defense Secretary William Perry said Tuesday that his staff would look into the allegations made by the group. He said the increase in discharges "was not a significant change'' from previous years.

The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy was a strained compromise between President Bill Clinton, who wanted to lift the ban on homosexuals in the military, and congressional and military representatives who fiercely opposed this step.

Clinton's compromise was to allow gay members to continue to serve, but only if they did not disclose, even in private conversations, their homosexuality.