U.S. Allies’ Militaries vs. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

On Wednesday, representatives from the militaries of several key U.S. allies gathered together at the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C. to discuss their experiences with integrating gays and lesbians in their militaries. Officers from Canada, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and even Australia were engaged in the dialogue.

And they just don’t understand what our problem is.

Essentially, these representatives say that their military personnel adapted to the change just fine. And they’re surprised that the United States, of all countries, has such an issue with gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.

I learned about this from a CNN.com article, which had three marvelous quotations from our allies:

“I did not see one case at any level when homosexuals did not get along with other soldiers. The problems are among men and women,” said Maj. Gen. Walter Semianiw, an infantry officer in the Canadian military. “This is not an issue for our country.”

“We know the U.S. as a country that favors the individual rights, freedom, giving the people the opportunity to flourish in their life,” said Col. Kees Matthijssen of the Royal Dutch Army. “From that perspective it’s still very strange the U.S. is still having a kind of ban on openly having gays and lesbians in the military.”

“There were concerns in the late ’90s of gay men walking across the gangplank in feather boas and high heels,” said retired Lt. Cmdr. Craig Jones of the British Royal Navy. “That just did not happen.”

It wasn’t all “this isn’t as bad as it couldn’t been” though. Some military representatives actually cited benefits of allowing gays and lesbians to openly serve in their countries’ military.

A British Naval officer spoke in glowing terms about the improvements in retaining soldiers and sailors in key positions, rather than chasing their talent away because of anti-gay policies. He also cited that many soldiers leave the military in their 20s and 30s to raise children, something that gays and lesbians are “less likely” to do and thus tend to stay in the military longer.

Adding to that, a representative from the Dutch military said, “We’re much more effective because we have an organizational culture and climate that people know that they can tell about who they are, and that’s what we encourage.”

Well said. Now hurry up and get back out in front on civil rights, U.S. military!

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