Rise in harassment of gay US soldiers

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The Bush administration came in a for a roasting yesterday for its "scandalous" treatment of gays in the military.

An advocacy group for the armed forces reported a sharp increase in harassment of gay servicemen and has accused the White House of "callous indifference" about it.

A report by the service members' Legal Defence Network found there were 1,075 complaints of anti-gay harassment last year, a 23 per cent increase from 2000. More men and women had to leave the armed forces last year than in any year since 1987 because of violations of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on homosexuality – gays are allowed in the US military but only if they do not flaunt their sexuality or engage in homosexual acts.

The network's executive director, C Dixon Osburn, blamed the figures squarely on the change of leadership in Washington, accusing President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defence, of refusing to take the issue seriously and failing to implement an anti-harassment action plan that was adopted by President Clinton six months before he left office.

Mr Osburn said. "It is nothing short of scandalous that the leaders of our country, through their blatant inaction, have demonstrated such callous disregard for our service members." The report found the most profound problems were in the Army, in particular at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, where a private, Barry Winchell, was murdered in 1999 after enduring anti-gay taunts from his colleagues. Almost half of last year's discharges from the services – 616 out of 1,250 – occurred in the Army and, of those, 222 were at Fort Campbell.