The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) is warning military personnel that online profiles on web sites such as PlanetOut.com, Gay.com and Adam4Adam are a violation of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, and that in some cases online profiles are being used as evidence in outing service members to military command. Of the 29 known “outing” incidences monitored by the SLDN so far this year, six of the cases involved online profiles posted by members of the military as a part of the evidence against them. These six outings, say SLDN officials, are not the result of proactive military investigations; rather, the profiles are being used by disgruntled friends of gay service members acting against them.
“It’s the first time that the trend has been significant enough that we have tracked it as a separate category of case,” said Steve Ralls, director of communications for the SLDN. “It’s important to be clear that these are not cases where the military is actively searching online profiles looking for gay service members – all of the six cases the SLDN has handled this year are cases where someone the service member knows has used their profile as evidence against them to turn them into their command. In many cases it’s either a jilted ex-lover, a roommate or friend who is upset about something who knows that the service member has the online ad or profile and they then print out that profile and give it to the command.”
All six individuals are currently being discharged from the military, Ralls said. Their profiles were posted on the Gay.com, Gaydar and Yahoo web sites, and the information in those profiles was the basis for each of the investigations.
“In the six cases we have, all six clients who have been outed are going to lose their careers,” Ralls said. “None of them are going to be able to stay in, and so it becomes a balancing act of how much interaction do you want to have with the community versus how much protection you want to have for your career. And that’s a decision every service member has to make on their own.”
With approximately 95,000 uniformed service members stationed in the San Diego area it is common knowledge that there is a large GLBT presence in the military. A simple search of the PlanetOut.com web site revealed 150 personal ads with photos of individuals who identified themselves as being in the military and living in San Diego.
“We advise service members who are going to go online to not give any details, including the military designation or having a screen name such as ArmyBoy or NavyBoy or having a picture with a uniform,” Ralls said. “In fact, we advise against having any photo whatsoever, because that generally identifies people and gets them in the most trouble, so we advise clients to be as vague as possible in their profile and not to use a photo.”
“Matthew”, a 25-year-old Marine stationed in southern California who agreed to an interview with the Gay & Lesbian Times under the condition that his real name was not used, first learned of the discharges when he saw a news article posted on his Yahoo news startup page.
“I immediately sent it to just about every [gay"> friend I have that’s in the military,” he said. “I also took a picture that I had off of a profile.”
For GLBT service members, the internet is often a lifeline and a way to communicate with others who are forced to remain closeted because of their careers. It’s also a resource for those living in small military towns where there isn’t a gay scene.
“It’s been the only way of identifying yourself, without having to identify yourself,” Matthew adds. “It’s not like you can put an equal sign on your car and drive around the base or be openly gay and discuss your sexuality at work or anything. The only way to really meet others who are out there is through the Internet.”
In response to the trend of using online profiles as evidence in outing service members, PlanetOut Inc., the parent company of GLBT online destination sites PlanetOut.com and Gay.com, has announced a collaboration with SLDN to provide members of the military with more information about how the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy affects them. The joint effort has resulted in a variety of new content on PlanetOut.com and Gay.com for lesbians and gays serving in the armed forces. The resource offers guidelines that lesbian and gay military personnel can use in the effort to protect their identities online.
“Gay.com and PlanetOut.com provide lifelines to LGBT people who want to connect with their friends, family and loved ones in a safe and welcoming environment,” said Jeff Titterton, the senior vice president for member sales and marketing at PlanetOut Inc., in a recent press release. “For lesbians and gays in the U.S. armed forces – who serve courageously around the world but are not allowed under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ to be honest about who they are – our communications channels are even more vital. With the lives and careers of these courageous men and women at stake, we are proud to provide these guidelines and other resources for service members that we hope will allow them to communicate through our websites without putting themselves at risk for entrapment or harassment.”
In addition to the guidelines, Gay.com and PlanetOut.com offer resources for service members such as an anonymous “Open Forum” from lesbian and gay service members currently serving in Iraq, GLBT veteran stories, a photographic slideshow of former service members and veterans and submissions from PlanetOut.com and Gay.com members about their thoughts on the war in Iraq.
Regardless of any military members activities online, Ralls cautions: “It’s really important for service members to understand that having an online profile is a violation of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ and will get them discharged. A hundred percent of the clients that we’ve assisted that were online did not believe or understand that what they were doing was a violation of the policy, but it is.”
For more information and links to the PlantOut.com and Gay.com military guides visit this story online at www.gaylesbiantimes.com.