Reports of anti-gay harassment in the military declined slightly last year, largely because of improved training programs within the Army, a report by a legal aid group for gay and lesbian service members has found.
But anti-gay behavior remains common in all the services, including among officers, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network says in its seventh annual report on the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
The report, to be released today, asserts that many commanders continue to violate the policy by overzealously investigating the sexual orientation of service members. The policy allows gay men and lesbians to serve as long as they keep their sexual orientation private and do not engage in homosexual acts.
The report urges Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to develop rules for disciplining service members who engage in, condone or ignore anti-gay behavior, and to issue a directive strongly stating the Pentagon's opposition to anti-gay behavior.
"We now stand at a political crossroads and the question is whether the Bush administration will do what the Clinton administration failed to do and enforce don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue, don't harass with fairness and compassion," the report says.
President Bush has said he supports the "don't ask, don't tell" policy but has said little about how he would enforce it.
Concerns about verbal and physical harassment of gays and lesbians in the military have been taken more seriously by the Pentagon since Pfc. Barry Winchell was bludgeoned to death in 1999 at Fort Campbell, Ky. Investigators found that commanders ignored reports that soldiers had taunted Winchell about his sexual orientation for months before the killing.
A Pentagon survey ordered after Winchell's death found that 80 percent of service members reported hearing anti-gay remarks in the previous year. In 1999, reports of harassment to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network skyrocketed to 986, more than double the previous year's 400, and the highest level by far since the policy was introduced in 1994.
In 2000, reports of anti-gay harassment declined to 871, a 10 percent decrease, the organization says in its latest survey. The Army accounted for most of that decrease, with complaints falling to 209, from 276.
C. Dixon Osburn, executive director for the defense network, said training in the other services lagged far behind. The Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force have distributed anti-harassment materials through e-mail messages and on Web sites but have not done enough training on bases or ships, he said.
In 2000, the Navy led the other services in reported cases of harassment with 332, up from 330 the year before.