Ask, Tell, and Serve: The countries who have led the way

One year after President Barack Obama repealed Don't Ask, Don't Tell, GSN looks at the countries showing the world how to treat gay soldiers

Ask, Tell, and Serve: The countries who have led the way
20 September 2012

A year to the day, gay members of the American military celebrated, in glittering style, the anniversary of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

When President Obama signed the bill, he declared patriotic Americans in uniform will no longer have to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love.

In a country that has regularly led the way, culturally, technologically and in business for the best part of 50 years, before September 2011 it still forced its own citizens to lie about who they were to join the military.

America found itself on the back foot, trying to catch up with many of its military allies such as Britain, Australia, Israel and Germany.

On 20 September, 25 countries allow openly gay men and women to serve in their armed forces. Many other countries have an outright ban on homosexuality in their society, so gay military service is a bit of nonissue.

The British Government allowed gay and lesbian people to openly serve in their military from 2000, a law forced upon them by the European Court of Human Rights. The media reported large swathes of resignations of servicemen and women in protest, the threat never materialized.

Since 1992, Australia has been at the forefront for allowing its gay country men and women to serve in their military with pride.

Australia has acted as a case study for the remaining countries that still have bans in place.

In a US study of the country’s gay military personnel, carried out by the University of California, found allowing openly gay men and women to serve in the military did not affect troop cohesion, recruitment or combat effectiveness.

In fact, the head of Australia’s military is publicly encouraging more gay and lesbian people to join the armed forces.

Lieutenant General David Morrison said in a speech to the Sydney Institute earlier this year, the composition of the military should reflect Australia’s changing demographics.

He said:’25, 30 years ago the reaction to people of a different sexual orientation would have been seen as insurmountable.

‘Yet now of course it isn’t an issue and nor should it be. We have many gay and proud gay and lesbian soldiers, airmen, airwomen and sailors serving in our [Australian Defence Force].’

Canada, along with Japan, and Israel take no concern of a recruit’s sexual orientation when they sign up.

Having lifted their ban in 1993, Israel remains the only country with a universal policy of conscription for both men and women.

A new study, published in August by the Palm Center, a research institute which focuses on gender, sexuality and the military, discussed the effects of openly gay soldiers serving in the Israeli Defence Force.

It found claims made by military chiefs who said having openly gay people serving in the military would be bad for troop morale and lead to a lack of cohesion within ranks were unfounded.

It also rebuffed accusations that gay people would hamper the performance of the military. It instead found  that having publicly gay soldiers increased morale and encouraged more acceptance within the force.

Countries like Israel and Australia can be seen as models of equality within their military for countries such as South Korea, Russia and Greece.

Being gay in South Korea is not illegal however, under the country’s military code, being gay can be punishable with a prison sentence. Military service is mandatory in South Korea, with the conscription process known to ask recruits about their sexual orientation and practice.

Russia has no outright ban on gay men and women serving in its military, but the country has  a hostile attitude to soldiers open about their sexuality.

While being gay in Greece does not stop you from joining the military, you are not allowed to be transgender.

Under a 2002 law the Greece military bans anyone thought to be suffering from, ‘psycho-sexual’ or ‘sexual identity’ from joining their armed forces.

America may have made its own history when it finally repealed DADT after forcing its citizens to spend decades hiding their true identities.

But as many of the above countries have shown, the transition of allowing openly gay people to serve in their militaries has, for the most part, been a smooth transition and one that most societies have supported.



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