By M. Alex Johnson Reporter
msnbc.com
updated 2/8/2006 12:32:20 PM ET 2006-02-08T17:32:20

The very visibility the Internet gives the gay community can create its own problems.

The military, for example, operates under the notorious “don’t ask, don’t tell” rules, which are a powerful incentive for gay service members to stay under the radar. Some turn to online dating sites.

At least three prominent sites that cater to members of the military — Uniform Dating, Military Maneuver and Date Soldiers — accept ads from and offer searches for service members seeking gay partners. That makes it easier for a service member to find companionship. It also makes it easier for snoops or antagonists to out gay soldiers or lesbian sailors.

Just last month, the Army opened an investigation into allegations that members of the 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., had appeared on a gay pornographic Web site . A Defense Department spokesman reiterated that “homosexual conduct is incompatible with military service.”

And just as advocates for gay people have created a sophisticated online network to fight for their causes — through the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and the like — so have their opponents.

“The Internet is proving to be a formidable new communication method and organizing tool for national anti-gay organizations,” Janice M. Irvine, a professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts, concluded in a study published last year in the journal Sexuality Research & Social Policy.

Irvine found that prominent conservative and religious organizations like Focus on the Family, the American Family Association and Concerned Women for America were enjoying significant success by bringing “a seemingly objective — but actually quite biased and often inaccurate — body of anti-gay news and information to their readership.”

Irvine warned that “the Internet, by increasing the availability of anti-gay material, inevitably extends the reach of anti-gay politics.”

Sometimes, the attack comes from within. The highly divisive tactic of outing closeted gay figures has reached a new level in the past year as bloggers target politicians and clergy who voice anti-gay sentiments even though they are themselves gay.

In the most famous incident, Rep. Ed Schrock, R-Va., a married ex-Navy captain who supported a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages, abandoned his re-election campaign in 2004 after BlogActive.com published allegations that he had solicited sex from another man on a gay telephone dating service.

Michael C. Bradbury contributed to this report.

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