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United States GAO Report:

Homosexuals in the Armed Forces (1992)

United States
General Accounting Office
Washington DC 20548

National Security and International Affairs Division


June 12, 1992

The Honorable John Conyers, Jr.
The Honorable Gerry E. Studds
The Honorable Ted Weiss
House of Representatives

The report responds to your joint request that we review the Department of Defense's (DOD) policy of excluding homosexuals from serving in the armed forces. Also, as you requested, our supplemental report Defense Force Management: Statistics Related to DOD's Policy on Homosexuality (GAO/NSIAD-92-98S) contains statistical information such as the number of service personnel expelled for homosexuality as a result of DOD's exclusion policy.

Unless you publicly announce the contents of this report earlier, we plan no further distribution of it until 30 days from its issue date. At that time, we will send copies to interested committees; other Members of Congress; and the Secretaries of Defense, the Air Force, the Army, the Navy, and the Marine Corps. We will make copies available to other parties upon request.

Please contact the Director for Defense Force Management Issues, Paul L. Jones, on (202) 275-3990, if you or your staff have any questions concerning this report. The Major contributors to this report are listed in appendix V.

Frank C. Conahan
Assistant Comptroller General

Executive Summary


In response to a request from Representatives John Conyers, Jr., Ted Weiss, and Gerry E. Studds, GAO examined certain aspects of the Department of Defense's (DOD) policy of excluding homosexuals from serving in the U.S. armed forces. Specifically, GAO was asked to

  • compile and analyze statistics on the separation of homosexuals from the military services between 1980 and 1990, including the number of personnel by service, race/ethnicity, gender, rank, and occupational category;
  • determine the cost o replacing personnel separated under this policy and the cost of investigating allegations of homosexuality;
  • identify and analyze the evidence that has been developed by DOD the military services, or nondefense sources and cited as support for the current policy on homosexuality; and
  • obtain information on the general public's attitudes, other nations' military forces policies, and other organizations' views on the compatibility of homosexuality with the military or other work environments.


According to DOD officials, U.S. forces have had policies prohibiting homosexuals from serving in the military since the beginning or World War II. DOD's current policy on homosexuality was formalized in 1982 and specifically state that:

Homosexuality is incompatible with military service. The presence in the military environment of persons who engage in homosexual conduct or who, by their statements demonstrate a propensity to engage in homosexual conduct, seriously impairs the accomplishment of the military mission. The presence of such members adversely affects the ability of the Military Services to maintain discipline, good order, and morale; to foster mutual trust and confidence among servicemembers; to ensure the integrity of the system of rank an command; to facilitate assignment and worldwide deployment of servicemembers who frequently must live and work under close conditions affording minimal privacy; to recruit and retain members of the Military Services; to maintain public acceptability of military service; and to prevent breaches of security.

According to DOD, a homosexual is "a person, regardless of sex, who engages in, desires to engage in, or intends to engage in homosexual acts." DOD define a homosexual act as "bodily contact, actively undertaken or passively permitted, between members of the same sex for the purpose of satisfying sexual desires."

Results in Brief

On the basis of its policy of excluding homosexuals from the military, DOD annually expelled an average of about 1,500 men and women between 1980 and 1990 under the separation category of "homosexuality." These expulsions reached a high of about 2,000 in 1982 and a low of about 1,000 in 1990. Separations for homosexuality do not require a determination that an individual's behavior affects the military's mission. In terms of rank, gender, and race/ethnicity, the majority of those expelled were enlisted personnel; most were men (about 78 percent); and most were white. When challenged, these discharges have been routinely upheld in the military adjudication and civil court systems.

DOD does not maintain records of the cost associated with administering its policy; nor does it record the cost of investigating alleged cases of homosexuality. Accordingly, our analysis was limited to estimates of the costs of recruiting and training individuals to replace personnel discharged for homosexuality.

Major psychiatric and psychological organizations in the United States disagree with DOD's policy and believe it to be factually unsupported, unfair, and counterproductive. In additions, two DOD / service - commissioned study efforts have refuted DOD's position on the potential security risk associated with homosexual orientation as well as disclosed information that raised questions about the basic policy. Further, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have recently acknowledged that homosexual orientation is no longer a major concern.

GAO also found that

  • recent polls suggest that the public has become more accepting or homosexuality and of homosexuals' serving in the military;
  • some U.S. allied nations have policies similar to that of the United States, and others have policies that permit homosexuals to be members; and
  • police and fire departments in several major U.S. cities have removed employment restrictions without adverse effects on mission.

GAO Analysis

Number of Discharges

During fiscal years 1980 through 1990, approximately 17,000 servicemen and women (an average of about 1,500 per year) were separated from the services under the category of "homosexuality." Approximately 1,000 military personnel were discharged in 1990. No determination that their behavior had adversely affected the ability of the military services to perform their missions was required. In terms of rank, gender, and race/ethnicity, the majority were enlisted personnel; most were men; and most were white. However, some groups were consistently discharged at a rate higher than their representation in the total active force or individual service. For example, between 1980 and 1990, the navy representing 27 percent of the active force, accounted for about 51 percent of the discharges; and women, representing 11 percent of the total active navy force, accounted for 22 percent for those discharged.

Cost of Policy

Limited cost information associated with he administration of DOD's policy was available. Basically, only the costs of recruiting and training the personnel need to replace those discharged for homosexuality could be readily estimated. In fiscal year 1990, recruiting and initial training costs associated with the replacement of personnel discharged for homosexuality were estimated to be $28,226 for each enlisted troop and $120,772 for each officer. The total cost of replacing personnel discharged for homosexuality, however, would need to include other factors such as out-processing and court costs.

The services; investigative agencies could not provide specific information n the cost of investigating alleged cases of homosexuality. However during fiscal years 1986 through 1990, DOD investigative agencies conducted a total of 3,663 such investigations. In 1990, a total of about 472 investigations were conducted. These figures are approximate because the services can administratively handle investigations involving homosexuality under other categories, and the investigative agencies had to estimate the number of such cases. In addition, Navy investigations are simultaneously categorized as more than one offense, such as sodomy and indecent assault; again, the Navy adjusted its figures to account for this policy.

Studies of Homosexuality in the Military

DOD and the services have commissioned two major efforts that focused o whether homosexuals were more of a security risk than heterosexuals and concluded that there was no factual data to substantiate that premise. The Navy's 1957 Crittenden Report (1) (Which did not question the underlying premise of DOD's policy) stated, "A third concept which persists without sound basis in fact is the idea that homosexuals necessarily pose a security risk." A more recent draft report, prepared by DOD's Defense Personnel Security Research and Education Center (PERSEREC), commented that the DOD policy prohibiting homosexuals from serving in the military was based on the same rationale used to limit the integration of blacks (2) Specifically it stated:

The order to integrate blacks was first met with stout resistance by traditionalists in the military establishment. Dire consequences were predicted for maintaining discipline, building group morale, and achieving military organizational goals. None of these predictions of doom has come true.

The PERSEREC effort, initiated in 1986, has been packaged as several interim products with the final report issued in late 1991.

In addition, nations organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association, familiar with the extensive research conducted on homosexuality in the general population and with military veterans, disagree with DOD's policy and the policy's implied characterization of homosexuals.

In testimony before the House Budget Committee, the Secretary of Defense in July 1991 and the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff in February 1992 backed away from security concerns as a major basis for DOD's policy. However, both officials continued to support the policy on the basis of their belief that it is needed to maintain good order and discipline.

Attitudes toward Homosexuality

General public attitudes in the United States about homosexuality appear to be changing. GAO reviewed three recent national polls, conducted by Gallup and Penn and Schoen Associates, Inc., which indicated that more Americans now say they believe that homosexuals should be allowed to participate in various occupations, including the armed forces. A Gallup survey conducted in March 1991 of a cross section of the American population of adults aged 18 and over whoed that 69 percent of those interviewed felt that homosexuals should be allowed to serve in the armed forces, whereas only 51 percent felt that way in 1977.

Selected Police/Fire Department Polices

Additionally, since the early 1970s, a number of police and fire departments have adopted policies prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and have hired homosexuals into their work forces. Officials from all eight of the departments that GAO contacted stated that they had not experienced any degradation of mission associated with these polices. Most department officials did not identify major problems related to retaining homosexuals in a work force, but a few pointed out isolated cases of problems indirectly involving homosexuals.

Other Nations' Policies on Homosexuals in the Military

The polices regarding homosexuals serving in the military forces of 17 selected nations -- predominately members of the North Atlantic Treat Organization and other U.S. allies -- ranged from polices very similar to that of the United States to no stated policy addressing homosexuality as either a legal or a military personnel issue.

Four of the 17 countries, or about 24 percent, and polices that appear to have been designed to prevent homosexuals form entering the military service and to separate from service or preclude retention beyond an existing service obligation those active duty personnel identified as homosexuals. While 13 countries did not exclude homosexuals from entering their armed forces, several had polices requiring separation if an individual's homosexuality was disclosed later or if an individual's behavior was found to be aggressive, harassing, or disruptive. During the past 10 years, at least two countries have dropped their exclusion policies. One of the four countries that now exclude homosexuals is reviewing its policy -- it expects to rescind the existing restriction in the near future.


On May 19, 1992, a bill to prohibit discrimination by the armed forces on the basis of sexual orientation was introduced. While GAO is making no recommendations in this report, GAO's analysis should assist the Congress in deliberating legislative initiatives relative to changing DOD's policy, which excludes homosexuals from serving in the U.S. armed forces.

Agency Comments

In commenting on the draft of this report, DOD agreed or partially agreed with some findings and did not agree with others. DOD said that its homosexual exclusion policy is not based on any belief that homosexuality is a mental disorder, nor is it abased solely on security concerns. DOD said that GAO correctly notes that the DOD policy is based on military judgement and that scientific or sociological analyses are unlikely to affect its policy of excluding homosexuals from the military. DOD said that the courts consistently have found that the military interests underlying the policy -- good order, discipline, and morale -- were substantial and that military concern about homosexuality has a basis in fact.

DOD said that GAO erred in stating that the two cited reports did not support DOD's policy. DOD said that the Crittenden report clearly supported the policy and the PERSEREC draft misstated the policy. That is, DOD said that the PERSEREC draft did not address the issues of morale, discipline, and so on, and, therefore, its "analysis" was flawed.

DOD correctly states that the Crittenden report did not question the premise of DOD's exclusionary policy -- that is, that homosexuality is incompatible with military service -- and GAO's report points this out. However, the report that was issued in 1957 stated that (1) many homosexuals have served honorable in all branches of the military and (2) the concept that homosexuals pose a security risk is unsupported. It also noted that the number of homosexuals disclosed represented only a very small proportion of those in the Navy.

With regard to the PERSEREC draft, GAO recognizes that this study went beyond its directed task. However, GAO believes that the information presented should not be discounted by DOD solely for that reason.

In a draft of this report, GAO suggested that individual Members of Congress may wish to direct the Secretary of Defense to reconsider the basis for DOD's prohibition. Because legislation has since been introduced on this matter, GAO has deleted its suggestion.


  1. Officially, the Report of the Board Appointed to Prepare and Submit Recommendations to the Secretary of the Navy for the Revision of Policies, Procedures and Directives Dealing With Homosexuals Mar. 15, 1957.
  2. Presidential Executive Order 9981, July 26, 1948, required the integration of blacks into the armed forces. Congress also passed the Women's Armed Services Integration Act in 1948 to institutionalize career opportunities for women in the military.

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