Columnists » The Right View

Post-DADT Training: Look to Israel & European Allies for Examples

by Shaun Knittel
Saturday Sep 3, 2011

The U.S. military is preparing for the repeal of the much-reviled "Don't Ask Don't Tell" rule that has applied for two decades, now scheduled for Sept. 20. Policymakers, meanwhile, are looking to other military bodies around the world that have successfully integrated LGB soldiers into military service. (Transgender persons are not permitted to join the ranks, even after the repeal takes place.)

One of those allies is the Israeli Defense Forces, or IDF, a highly trained and well-respected military around the world. In Israel, military service is obligatory for men and women. And for many years, the IDF limited service by openly gay members of the military by requiring servicemembers to undergo psychiatric evaluations, which would often trigger a discharge. Gay people were also banned from top-secret positions in the military.

In 1983, the ban on gays in top-secret positions was relaxed. Then, in the early '90s, a review committee in parliament recommended dropping the ban. Israel was incidentally one of the first to integrate totally out soldiers. Tiny Israel found it couldn't afford to alienate any potential soldiers.

The current Israeli policy states, "There is no limit on the induction of homosexuals to the army, and their induction is according to the criteria that apply to all candidates to the army."

While data shows that in the IDF and the militaries of four other U.S. allies (Britain, Canada, South Africa and Australia) the transitions to policies of equal treatment without regard to sexual orientation have been highly successful and have had no negative impact on morale, recruitment, retention, readiness or overall combat effectiveness, the truth is that it is the post-openly gay service training and programs that have kept gay and lesbian troops safe, allowed them to be accepted, and that educate the ranks -- from the bottom up -- about how to better communicate, live and work alongside their LGB troops.

There's no doubt that the repeal of DADT is a big step forward for gay rights. . But a Tel Aviv University researcher warns that the repeal alone won't lead necessarily to a more tolerant environment for gay and bisexual men and women in the military. A new study from the university suggests that an integrated support and education dimension is essential to the successful assimilation of these soldiers into the U.S. armed forces.

Dr. Guy Shilo of TAU's Bob Shapell School of Social Work has completed a quantitative study detailing the LGB experience in the military. While IDF technically maintain an open-door policy to service by LGB soldiers, Dr. Shilo says soldiers continue to experience anxiety and harassment surrounding their sexual orientation. "The best solution is an educational system for all service people across the military spectrum," he concludes.

Dr. Shilo's original research was contained in a report to the Pentagon about the repeal of DADT. This year's study, a follow-up to Dr. Shilo's 2006 report on the situation of LGB soldiers in the IDF, was commissioned by and presented to the Israeli Gay Youth Organization.

"In the quest to repeal DADT, the American military has much to learn from the IDF's experiences," says Dr. Shilo. The successful repeal of DADT depends on not only a change of policy, but also a correction of perception, attitude, and behavior towards openly gay service people.

"Most debate on repealing DADT revolves around its predicted impact on military performance and the cohesion of individual units," he says. "But it is imperative to think about the impact on LGB soldiers themselves, and to ensure that they have equal opportunities."

Moving forward, American officials should never underestimate the power of education, he counsels.

The IDF offers optional sensitivity training geared towards sexual orientation, but this has had little effect. The training should be mandatory, much like sensitivity training towards religious or racial minorities and female soldiers, Dr. Shilo suggests. And if commanders are going to ask soldiers about their sexual orientation, the soldiers must feel confident that the information will be used to ensure their safety rather than expose them to harm and harassment.

"In Europe," says Dr. Shilo, "some militaries actively recruit for new soldiers among the LGB community. The Netherlands, for example, runs an advertising campaign dedicated to attracting LGB youth by highlighting their equal capabilities in a military setting."

This kind of campaign forces an about-face in terms of the message it sends to potential LGB recruits, he explains. The message is not, "You can serve in our army." Instead, it should be translated into the more positive "It's your army too."

Currently, the U.S. military does not have anything in place in the way of sensitivity training. When the Pentagon announced that DADT would be repealed, officials went from base to base to "train troops for repeal," however, the training consisted of a questions and answers session about the new policy and a breakdown of why, and how, DADT was repealed. For now, it would seem, the U.S. troops understanding of their LGB brothers and sisters, is on their own free will.

Shaun Knittel is an openly gay journalist and public affairs specialist living in Seattle. His work as a photographer, columnist, and reporter has appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout the Pacific Northwest. In addition to writing for EDGE, Knittel is the current Associate Editor for Seattle Gay News.


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