The armed forces last year violated in record numbers a Pentagon policy designed to make it easier for homosexuals to serve in the military, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a gay rights legal organization here.
It cited 563 violations, a 27 percent jump over the previous year’s number and an increase for the fourth year in a row.
The legal defense group’s findings are contained in a report, “Conduct Unbecoming,” due to be released today.
Previously, the group said, there were 443 violations in 1996, 363 in 1995 and 340 in 1994.
The recent violations included instances in which military commanders “asked, pursued and harassed service members in direct violation of the limits to gay investigations under current policy,” the report said.
It added that there “is a climate in many commands where ‘anything goes’ in the pursuit of suspected gay personnel. Commanders who want to do the right thing must swim upstream.”
The group based its annual report on data provided by service members who went to the organization seeking legal aid.
A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on the report, saying he had not yet seen it.
In 1993, after a bruising battle among the White House, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Congress, the military adopted a policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue” regarding gay men and lesbians. The policy said homosexual activity would remain banned in the military, but that gays and lesbians may serve as long as they keep quiet about their sexual orientation.
Under the policy, gay recruits and troops cannot be asked about their sexual orientation unless commanders have “credible information” that they are actually engaged in homosexual conduct.
The previous Pentagon policy allowed commanders to make such queries without any direct evidence.
Last year the Pentagon told commanders that “credible information” must contain more than a simple accusation by one service member against another.
Despite that effort, the legal rights group said it has documented an increase in violations in which commanders were asking service members about their sexuality, pursuing them and harassing them.
For example, the group said that in 124 cases, commanders asked soldiers if they were homosexual without sufficient cause, up from 89 reported violations in 1996. It said it had documented 235 violations in which commanders investigated suspected homosexual troops without credible evidence, up from 191 the previous year. And it reported 182 anti-gay harassment incidents, including death threats and assaults, a 38percent increase from the 132 incidents reported in 1996.
However, the group found that “don’t tell” violations, in which military counselors or health care providers turned in suspected homosexual service members, had dropped significantly. There were 22 such violations in 1997, down from 31 in the previous year.
The report said that of all the military services, the Navy committed the most violations - 193 - of the Pentagon’s policy.
The organization pointed to the case of Senior Chief Petty Officer Timothy McVeigh, a 17-year veteran based in Honolulu, as an example of the Navy going out of its way to invade the privacy of a suspected gay.
In January the Navy discharged McVeigh, after investigators gained access to his e-mail user profile from American Online. In the profile, McVeigh said his marital status was “gay” and listed his hobbies as “driving, boy-watching, collecting pictures of other young studs.”
The Navy was overruled by U.S. District Judge Stanley Sporkin, who said that the “Navy went too far” and had “violated the very essence of ‘don’t ask, don’t pursue’ by launching a search-and-destroy mission.”
In another example, the legal defense group cited the case of Kevin Smith, a Marine Corps lance corporal who was hospitalized after being assaulted outside a gay bar in San Angelo, Texas, last September.
Smith’s sergeant was more intent on determining whether the victim was gay than in tracking down his attackers, the group said. The sergeant pressed Smith about his sexuality, and fearing an investigation, Smith left the military.
The group also noted the case of an Air Force woman from Louisiana accused of being a lesbian by a former roommate, who later retracted the accusation and said it was false. But the woman was discharged anyway, “despite the lack of evidence,” the report said.