A study by a UF professor shows veteran support for the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which restricts gay and lesbian citizens from military service, has fallen sharply in recent years.

Only about 40 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans supported “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 2006, compared to 75 percent of service members in 1993 when the policy was introduced, according to the study by Bonnie Moradi, an associate professor of psychology.

The study shows 28 percent disagreed with it and 33 percent had no opinion or were unsure.

Moradi conducted the study with military sociologist Laura Miller of the RAND Corp., a nonprofit research institution.

Moradi said in an e-mail that one of the most important findings of the study was that knowing a gay or lesbian member of a military unit did not affect its cohesion.

Moradi said the study showed about 20 percent of the military personnel surveyed knew someone gay or lesbian in their unit, and over half of those service members said the presence of the gay or lesbian member was well-known in their unit. 

 “When I was out on the field in Central America, I served in combat zones where the last thing you were going to do was worry about the sexuality of your fellow soldier,” said Paul Ortiz, a UF history professor.

Ortiz, who served in Central America as a member of the U.S. Army in the 1980s, said the growing number of veterans who disagree with the nation’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is indicative of changing attitudes toward gays and lesbians in the military.

“You have people who have done two tours and won bronze stars and purple hearts, and then their immediate superior finds out that they’re gay and they’re discharged,” he said.

Ortiz said the policy is especially problematic given the trouble the U.S. military is having with troop shortages and an inability to find enough eligible citizens to serve in the armed forces.

When he served in the military, Ortiz said he and his fellow soldiers knew they had some gay comrades but did not talk about it.

“What you do on your own time is what you do on your own time,” he said.

Joseph Dellosa, president of UF Human Decency Now, said the shifting attitudes within the military are promising.

Human Decency Now is a student organization promoting LGBT rights.

While he was pleased with most of the study’s findings, he said it was a little disheartening to see that many still support the policy.

Dellosa hopes it will be repealed soon, as public and military opinions seem to support allowing gay and lesbian service members to serve openly.

“It staggers me that we are turning away people who are willing to put their lives at risk on the basis of their sexual orientation,” he said. “It’s really hard when people say ‘support the troops,’ when we’re telling an entire segment of those who serve that they need to shut up about who they are.”