Younger generation has different views on gays in the military

Nov 1 2010 - 11:00pm

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If you want to know what a member of the armed forces thinks about repealing "don't ask, don't tell," you could start by asking how old they are.

Generational differences appear to play a prominent role in whether soldiers, airmen, Marines and sailors are worried about repealing the policy that has barred gays from serving openly since 1993 but faces a possible court-ordered end.

Generation may also influence how a change is implemented, if the courts or Congress ultimately lift the ban.

The military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gay service members can remain in effect indefinitely while the government challenges a judge's ruling that declared the policy unconstitutional, a U.S. appeals court said Monday.

The 2-1 ruling extends a "temporary" order handed down two weeks ago by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. It set aside an injunction issued by a federal judge in Riverside, Calif., who told the Pentagon it must immediately suspend enforcement of the 1993 law that calls for discharging openly gay men and women.There is no comprehensive survey of military-wide views of gays in the ranks -- yet.

The Pentagon is set to release a study of the issue in December after questioning 400,000 service members and 150,000 relatives, an effort ordered by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to determine how to repeal the policy without hurting the military.

Officials familiar with its findings said this week that the survey found most U.S. troops and their families don't care whether gays serve openly and think "don't ask, don't tell" could be done away with.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the results of the survey have not been released.

Details on the findings were still scarce. But in conversations with troops and veterans, the idea repeatedly emerges that younger recruits, who make up the bulk of combat troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, are indifferent while older ones, including many officers, don't want the ban lifted.

Many veterans of the current wars use terms like "archaic" and "old-school" to describe the viewpoint they see from higher- ranking officers and others who support the ban.

"You can't expect a 60-year-old colonel who was reared in the 1950s to have the same opinion about homosexuality as a soldier who was reared in the 1990s," said Abel Trevino, who served in the Army from 2003 to 2008, including two tours in Iraq, before returning to civilian life and enrolling at the University of Washington.

Some say that despite the ban, they knew they were serving with gay soldiers.

But the topic was simply not discussed and rarely created a problem.

Justin Little, 30, is a National Guard medic who asked that his unit not be identified, because he serves with a gay soldier.

"We keep it to ourselves, because of the current policies, of course, and conceal it from new recruits that we get in our platoon from time to time until we can be confident in how they'd react," Little said.

Lance Shults, 25, a master at arms at Naval Base San Diego, said he was in boot camp with gay men and women, and that serving alongside them isn't a concern.

Shults believes his attitude is common among younger members of the military, who have grown up with portrayals of gays in the media and who may be likelier to have openly gay friends or relatives than older officers and enlistees.

"The older generation grew up with a phobia and a stigma and stereotype," he said.

"Younger people have been around it longer than older people have. You hear about them in the news, you have gay or lesbian friends. It's not a big deal."

But some veterans say those who support the repeal of the policy don't understand the impact of reversing the rules in a volunteer military force that's currently engaged in two wars.

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