From DenverPost.com: "WASHINGTON — A group representing more than 250 gay and lesbian active-duty soldiers has issued a letter criticizing the months-long process the Pentagon is undertaking to examine the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy and allow homosexuals to openly serve in the military.
The letter, sent Monday to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, criticizes the lack of input from gay and lesbian soldiers. It claims that lack of input "will result in failure to show that the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy has allowed the worst of atrocities to occur in our military and go unreported."
The problem for gay and lesbian service members is that as long as "don't ask, don't tell" is in effect, they can not openly discuss their experiences.
"The law is still in effect, and if someone were to out themselves, we would have to begin the discharge process," said Cynthia Smith, a Pentagon spokeswoman.
But, she emphasized, the group gathering information about "don't ask, don't tell" understands that it is "very important to get feedback from gay and lesbian members currently serving, and we are developing tools to gather that information."
The letter highlights that gays and lesbians already serve openly in many units with tolerant commanders and claims such units should be studied to understand how and why they work, something impossible under the study's restrictions.
"Our heterosexual counterparts see their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters at arms being unjustifiably called 'a social experiment' and 'potential rapists' while no leadership defends us," said the letter from Citizens for Repeal, which grew out of a group of gay cadets at the Air Force Academy and now encompasses gay and lesbian service personnel from all five military branches.
"The very groups that make these claims have direct access to the Pentagon working group, but gay and lesbian soldiers who risk their lives every day, do not," the letter said.
Citizens for Repeal is withholding the names of the gay military members who support the letter because they would be subject to discharge if their identities were known, said Ty Walrod, Citizens for Repeal's civilian spokesman.
Pentagon officials conceded that they are limited in the ways that they can collect information for the study, due Dec. 1, which commanders told Congress in February would be key to repealing a policy still popular with many in the military.
However, officials said they are also setting up work- arounds that might include a hotline or anonymous interviews done by a third-party contractor.
Military members and their families can also anonymously post information on a website set up by the 65-member comprehensive review working group, tasked by Gates to do the study. But the limit of those comments is 1,000 characters — or less than 250 words.
Much of the information for the study is being gathered by working group teams, which are holding forums that include several hundred people at a time on and around military bases. The forums are meant to gather views on how repeal could affect unit readiness and cohesion as well as recruiting.
According to a compromise worked out last month in the Senate, the president must certify that military readiness won't be adversely affected before repeal can take effect.
Members of Citizens for Repeal say the organization grew out of the need for mutual support among gays and lesbians serving under "don't ask, don't tell," including harassment, blackmail or the inability to report crimes because it might also involve outing themselves and thus ending their careers.
Many of those stories can't be told under the current process, they say, despite the millions of dollars the Pentagon is spending on the study.
"They're missing a lot," a gay Air Force officer and member of the group said of the Pentagon investigators.
"They need to learn how gay soldiers and straight soldiers are getting along right now and how we can make that work across the whole military. That's how they can learn about the relationships and how we can get past the barriers and the stigma."
Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said Tuesday that he'd read the letter and had contacted the Pentagon over the issue.
"I will be on close watch to ensure that gay and lesbian service members currently serving in the military who participate and answer questions as part of Secretary Gates' review are able to speak openly and honestly about their experiences without fear of retaliation," Udall said."