As a congressional vote nears to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy requiring gays to stay in the closet to stay in the military, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Baptist Press has stepped up efforts to oppose the move.
In a May 27 article by Tom Strode, the headline declared “Military Chiefs Oppose Repeal As ‘Don’t Ask’ Vote Nears.” The headline (all that many viewers will read) clearly implies that the heads of the four military branches uniformly oppose repeal of the measure. The article, however, is based on letters from the military chiefs in response to a request from Senator John McCain, asking their views. In their responses, the chiefs did not express an opinion on repealing the policy itself: what they opposed was Congress taking a vote to repeal it before a Pentagon review is completed in December. The headline is thus misleading.
Of greater concern is an article the previous day entitled “Analysis: Sexual Assault More Likely Among Gays in Military.” In the article, Michael Faust cites twisted statistics and dubious reasoning based on data compiled by Peter Spriggs, of the conservative Family Research Council. Spriggs said he examined publicly available records of military assaults for fiscal 2009 and discovered that 8.2 percent of sexual assaults reported involved males acting against males. He then declared that unnamed “homosexual activists have admitted that less than three percent of Americans” are gay or bi-sexual, citing 2.8 percent of males as the actual number. By dividing 2.8 into 8.2, presumably, he concluded that homosexual servicemen are about three times more likely to commit sexual assault than straight ones.
There are several problems with Spriggs’ reasoning, beginning with the assumption that the percentage of homosexual males in America is 2.8 (Faust says 2.7) percent. That number cannot be taken at face value, for several reasons. People may not feel free to respond honestly about their sexual orientation on surveys, for one thing. For another, counting homosexuals inevitably founders on the shoals of definition. Does every person who has had a homosexual feeling or experience count, or only those who practice an exclusively gay lifestyle? A full spectrum of human sexual preference and behavior is possible, and it’s incorrect to assume that everyone is at one extreme or the other. Even so, a number of studies have suggested that the percentage of people with homosexual inclinations is considerably higher than the numbers adopted by Spriggs: a recent article by Gallup cites studies ranging from five to more than 20 percent.
Nobody really knows how many Americans are predominantly gay, lesbian or bisexual, and even if we could come up with precise statistics for the larger population, there’s no guarantee that the same numbers would be reflected in the military. And, one certainly can’t get an accurate survey of sexual preference among military personnel, because the current law specifically prohibits asking and discourages telling.
Numbers aren’t the only problematic issue here, however. A homosexual assault does not necessarily indicate a homosexual orientation, especially among males. Most any psychologist will tell you that sexual assault, in general, is more about power and aggression than about sex. Homosexual rape, in particular, has been employed throughout history as a means of expressing power and shaming other persons. Even the Bible contains examples. Genesis 19 describes how the men (“young and old”) of Sodom sought to gang rape two visitors to Lot’s home, and Judges 19 portrays a similar incident involving the men of Gibeah and a Levite who was passing through. Were all the men of Sodom or all the men of Gibeah homosexuals? Of course not — but they employed homosexual aggression as a means of expressing power and shaming visitors.
When men are pressed into close quarters and highly stressful situations with little or no access to women — as in prison confines or some military settings — they may act out their frustration and aggression through same-sex assault even if they would not, in other settings, feel attracted to persons of their own gender. It’s simply incorrect to assume that all male-on-male sexual assaults, particularly in the military, are perpetrated by homosexuals.
In short, the practice of applying inaccurate numbers from the general population to the specific setting of military life and then extrapolating that gay soldiers are three times more likely to commit sexual assault demonstrates a misuse of math and a misunderstanding of human sexual behavior.
One could argue that publishing such specious reasoning amounts to verbal assault on a sexual minority as part of a larger effort to deny gay people the right to serve their country while remaining true to themselves.
It’s a lame attempt at shaming, and it’s shameful.