Being gay cost 726 members of the Armed Services their jobs in 2005 – a 10 percent jump over 2004 – according to numbers released by the Service Members Legal Defense Network Monday.

The network, a nonprofit organization that provides legal services to homosexual and bi-sexual members of the military, reported that the discharges were made under the Defense Department’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which bans military officials from inquiring about a service member’s sexual orientation and mandates that openly gay service members be discharged.

Military officials who support the policy have said that allowing gays in the armed services would negatively impact morale and disrupt missions.

The 2005 total of “don’t ask, don’t tell” discharges marks an end to a four-year decline. The number of discharges increased in seven of the first eight years after the policy was approved by the Clinton Administration in 1993. But since terrorists attacked the United States and the military launched operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number of discharges has declined each year.

“A valid question is whether heterosexuals are now using the policy to avoid going to Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Steven Ralls, a spokesman for the network, who noted that he has no evidence to indicate that is the case.

In San Diego, 64 Marines and Navy personnel were discharged from nine local military bases, although incomplete data made it impossible to tell if that number had increased or decreased from 2004.

Naval Station San Diego led the pack by discharging 21 sailors. Camp Pendleton reported 15 discharges, the San Diego Marine Recruit Depot discharged 11 service members and the Navy Amphibious Base in Coronado discharged nine. The other five local bases discharged one or two service members each.

While he said he believes that one discharge is one too many, Ralls said he hasn’t received reports of unchecked harassment or “witch hunts” in the San Diego military community.

Instead Ralls points to the Army bases at Fort Campbell, in Kentucky, and Fort Leonard Wood, in Missouri, which reported 49 and 60 discharges respectively, as areas of concern.

He’s particularly interested in Fort Campbell, where the number of discharges has increased dramatically since the 1999 murder of a Fort Campbell soldier who was beaten to death in the barracks by other soldiers who believed he was a homosexual.

The New York Times has a storyabout the number of discharges and an effort in Congress to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

DANIEL STRUMPF

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