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Originally published Tuesday, September 14, 2010 at 9:03 PM

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Military policy on gays is criticized

The government's "don't ask, don't tell" policy is based on mistaken assumptions and probably is making a difficult situation worse, a leading expert in cognitive psychology said Tuesday in Maj. Margaret Witt's lawsuit against the Air Force.

The News Tribune

The government's "don't ask, don't tell" policy is based on mistaken assumptions and probably is making a difficult situation worse, a leading expert in cognitive psychology said Tuesday in Maj. Margaret Witt's lawsuit against the Air Force.

Testifying in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, University of Washington professor Anthony Greenwald said that, based on academic studies, dire predictions about how troops would react to open homosexuality in their ranks almost certainly are wrong.

Chances are, soldiers would get over the stress, if any, of serving with gays and lesbians far more quickly than Congress imagined when it passed the don't ask, don't tell law, Greenwald said.

Keeping homosexuality a secret in the military probably increases fears, he said, and tends to reinforce the attitude that they are unwanted.

"When people are restricted from saying anything, their leader is free to assume there are no gays or lesbians serving and that people prefer it that way," he said.

Greenwald, social psychologist and professor of psychology at the UW, is widely known in the field of social psychology for innovations he's made in the study of prejudice and observing unconscious attitudes.

His painstaking testimony and cross examination took most of the day in court Tuesday.

"Don't ask, don't tell," is the shorthand term for the federal law that defines how homosexuality should be handled in the U.S. military.

People who are openly gay are barred from military service. However, as long as gay service members don't talk openly about their sexual orientation or display openly gay behavior, their supervisors are restricted from initiating investigations.

Witt, a popular and much decorated flight nurse, was discharged from her unit at McChord for engaging in homosexual conduct. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, she sued the Air Force in 2006, contending the Air Force had not proved her sexual orientation had interfered with her work.

Her case initially was dismissed, but in 2008 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sent it back to U.S. District Court in Tacoma, saying the Air Force should have to establish an important government interest — such as the preservation of unit morale, discipline and order — in making the decision to force someone from the military because of openly homosexual conduct.

Greenwald's careful, technical testimony in court Tuesday did not lend itself to easy conclusions.

"It's something like building the foundation of a house with Jell-O," U.S. District Court Judge Ronald B. Leighton told Greenwald of his analysis. "There are not very many concrete elements."

Information from The Seattle Times archives was included in this report.

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