Bias at Defense Language Institute alleged
cases of anti-gay harassment in past year, report claims
Air Force officers at the
Defense Language Institute conducted a "witch hunt" to root out homosexual
female student leaders during the past year, according to a report released
Thursday by a national watchdog organization.
During the year, 14 DLI students were allegedly harassed by superiors
who persisted in asking them if they were gay, according to a report by
the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. Of those cases, 12, involved
female Air Force personnel.
The report says the inquiries violated the "don't ask, don't tell" policy
regarding homosexuals in the military. The controversial policy allows
homosexuals to remain in the military if they do not disclose their sexual
orientation and do not engage in homosexual acts.
According to Stacey Sobel, legal director for the Servicemembers Legal
Defense Network, DLI had more complaints for its size than any other U.S.
military installation in the world. The Monterey school has 3,360 students,
34 percent of them women.
"A lot of anti-gay comments, jokes and derogatory statements were being
made in the actual classrooms, but that's not news. We've seen that before
at DLI. But the things that are really different this year are the sheer
volume of cases, and that almost all of them were from the Air Force,"
"I believe the organization is lobbying for specific interests they have,"
said Army Col. Daniel Devlin, commandant of DLI. "They are not happy with
the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy."
Under the policy, if a member of the military comes forward and states
that he or she is gay, the commander is required to conduct an investigation.
Devlin said an investigation was launched approximately three weeks ago
after two students came forward and declared they were lesbians.
According to the network's report, an Air Force master sergeant and a
senior airman launched an investigation in the spring of 1999 to determine
the sexual orientation of A-Flight female student leaders under their
command. One of the female students, Airman First Class Deanna Grossi,
20, said her ordeal began last April, when the master sergeant called
her into his office out of the blue for questioning.
"He asked if I knew about fellow student leaders who were 'more than just
friends,'" Grossi said. "He said, 'I've been hearing rumors, and wanted
to see if you were involved.' Things pretty much went downhill from there."
Under "don't ask, don't tell," superiors are not supposed to ask about
the sexual orientation of troops in their command unless authorized by
an investigation instigated by a commander, but the master sergeant had
no such authorization, the report said.
When Grossi returned to her Serbian language classes, she discovered the
rumors had somehow leaked to her classmates. "People would start making
little comments. Then it got to the point where my teachers were making
comments. It became a big mess," Grossi said.
Grossi said that after she returned from a trip to San Francisco, her
language teachers asked whether she had "fun ... with your girlfriend.
I mean boyfriend."
Commandant Devlin attributed the comment to a bilingual misunderstanding.
"If that question were asked in a foreign language class, that could be
a perfectly normal question," Devlin said.
In another incident, a classmate asked how to say "rainbow," a symbol
of gay pride, in Serbian, then said "oh, Grossi should know."
Grossi said her superiors at DLI questioned her about her sexual orientation
approximately five times, while the taunting grew to include crude gestures
as well as comments.
"It got to the point where I became almost a recluse. I thought as soon
as I left Monterey, it would end."
Some women reported dating men to throw off the harassment; one reported
that dating only escalated the taunting.
Devlin said these types of incidents do occur in society, but that DLI
has a "zero tolerance" policy against harassment and investigates all
Airman First Class John Petrozino, 21, faced rumors started in June 1999
that he had "made out with a guy" in the DLI parking lot, the report said.
Petrozino answered that he had been with a female friend who had short
hair, and even introduced her to his roommate. But after the incident,
the roommate yelled in the barracks hallway, "We still have a faggot on
"He thought it was his duty to investigate the rumor and report to command
with it.. That in itself was a violation (of the policy), but he didn't
understand that," Petrozino said.
The airman's ignorance of the policy may stem from the shortcomings in
Air Force training policies. Petrozino and Grossi said that during basic
training, airmen in their flights received virtually no education regarding
"don't ask, don't tell."
Petrozino said the incident drove him to write a letter to his commander
stating that he was gay and requesting to remain in the Air Force if he
could be assured of no reprisals for his sexual orientation. He was honorably
discharged Sept. 23, 1999.
According to the report, other DLI airmen said their classmates routinely
made hostile anti-gay comments and threats including such statements as,
"If I ever found out someone is a faggot, I would kill him because faggots
do not belong in the military" and "Gay people shouldn't have joined in
the first place. They don't deserve to serve our country."
The Defense Language Institute has a mandatory clarification program regarding
"don't ask, don't tell" for all students, instructors and commanders,
"All types of people come into the military. It is really a microcosm
of our society," Devlin said. "A uniform does not change concepts and
ideals. But no one has the right to discriminate."
In August 1999, the Defense Department announced that all service members
would undergo training to clarify the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
New guidelines called for recruits to receive training explaining that
harassment of any service member is unacceptable, according to a defense
Department press release.
The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network report alleges that the anti-gay
atmosphere also infected the school's civilian instructors. According
to the report, one instructor asked a student if he was gay in front of
his entire class, and later asked if he had a girlfriend or if he was
going to get one.
The report alleges that officers investigating harassment cases asked
inappropriate questions that violated "don't ask, don't tell," and could
have jeopardized the servicemen's chances for an honorable discharge.
The "witch hunt," according to the report, ruined the promising careers
of some of the military's best and brightest, at a time when military
enlistment is plunging. In 1998, the military lost 37 percent of new recruits
before they completed their first enlistment, its highest loss rate ever.
The Air Force has completed its investigation into the allegations of
anti-gay harassment at DLI. According to David Smith, a public affairs
officer with the Air Force, the report's findings are now under review.
Any findings, however, are too little, too late for former DLI student
Two days after she arrived at her new post at Goodfellow Air Force Base
in Texas in December 1999, Grossi's superiors questioned her again about
her sexual orientation.
"There was no way to continue with my career because it would follow me
forever," Grossi said. "I wanted to wait my four years and continue on.
But they made it impossible for me to do that ... I hit my breaking point
and lost the urge to conform."
Deciding that she didn't want this to happen to anyone else, she wrote
a letter to her superiors stating that she was gay and that the questioning
she had undergone over her sexual orientation was unwarranted. In the
letter, she also requested an honorable discharge.
"What they did to me was wrong," Grossi said. "Things need to change at
--Kathleen M. Wong and Jane