WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged gays and lesbians on Thursday to fill out a Pentagon survey before any possible repeal of the ban on openly gay people serving in the military.
One group, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, had warned that answering the questionnaire e-mailed to 400,000 service members could inadvertently expose any gays or lesbians who respond to expulsion from the military under its "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law.
"I'm aware that there's at least one group that has suggested that gays and lesbians in the service not fill in the report," Gates told reporters.
"I strongly encourage gays and lesbians who are in the military to fill out these forms," he said. "We organized this in a way to protect their privacy and the confidentiality of their responses."
The survey results will figure prominently in a Pentagon study due to be completed by December on the impact of integrating openly serving homosexuals into the armed forces if Congress repeals the 17-year-old law.
The Palm Center, a research institute of the University of California, Santa Barbara, said it welcomed survey feedback from the troops. But it raised concern about probing troops about their comfort working with a specific group of people.
"Can you imagine if military spouses were asked if they were comfortable living next to a Jewish family on post?" said Palm Center Director Aaron Belkin.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart, Editing by Chris Wilson)