The Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic at Columbia Law School has sent to members of Congress a report which shows conclusively that international allies of the United States have implemented smooth transitions in allowing gay and lesbian service members to serve openly in their nations’ armed forces.
The report, “Open Service and Our Allies: A Report on the Inclusion of Openly Gay and Lesbian Service Members in U.S. Allies’ Armed Forces,” is based on extensive research into the militaries of Australia, Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom; it concludes that successful implementation of strategies that permitted gays and lesbians to serve openly involved no changes in housing or hygiene facilities.
Suzanne Goldberg, Director of the Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic and a professor at Columbia Law School, said that the report “debunks many myths about the difficulty of transitioning to open service.” She notes also that “Open Service and Our Allies” provides empirical evidence “that ending the military’s exclusion of openly gay service members is not only possible but also beneficial to national security.”
To the surprise of some, including those who oppose ending the Pentagon’s exclusionary Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy, the report found that military performance and unit cohesion improved, and discrimination and harassment did not significantly increase, in the international armed services which integrated gays and lesbians openly.
“We hope that Congress can use these policies as lessons in how to successfully implement the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” says Donna Azoulay, a Columbia Law student and a researcher on the report.
The study shows that educational programs reinforced with training about sexual orientation, taken together with openness about the relationships of gay and lesbian service personnel, helped to ease the transition to allowing gays to serve.
The report makes four specific recommendations which it says will ease the U.S. armed forces’ move to open service: educational and training programs that include sexual orientation; strong anti-discrimination policies that provide a clear procedure for handling grievances; sexual harassment policies that apply equally to all service members and focus on the inappropriate act rather than the identity of the offender; and military support of gay pride activities and gay and lesbian affinity groups within the military.
Jantira Supawong, another Columbia Law student, says the report’s recommendations were based “on what we observed as having worked most effectively for our allies’ militaries.”
In the U.S. armed forces, a younger and more liberal corps of soldiers and commanders have led to small pockets of tolerance in today’s service branches—although the military at large remains largely wary and unwelcoming of gays and lesbians, according to reports from military personnel both gay and straight.
In spite of this, underground gay communities have sprung up on bases both within the U.S. and even in combat zones. The Washington Post reported in February, for instance, that in “Iraq, one email group maintained by gay troops includes a database where soldiers post their instant messaging screen names and the base where they’re stationed.
Dozens have profiles on gay dating sites, some posing in uniform.”