May 19th, 2010
08:17 PM ET

For allies, integrating gays in military easier done than said

The U.S. and its military allies agree on many things, from the size of bullets for their rifles to the design of future fighter jets. But on the issue of gays in the military, the U.S. stands alone among the Western allies.

Representatives from Great Britain, Canada, Australia, Israel and the Netherlands gathered Wednesday at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington, to describe how the militaries in those countries handled allowing homosexuals to serve openly in their militaries. The consensus was that, in spite of concerns before the change, when gays and lesbians were allowed to serve, it was a non-issue.

"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."

Jones said British military officials saw an unexpected benefit of allowing gays to serve openly - better retention of qualified soldiers and sailors in key positions. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the British military had a 6 percent to 8 percent gap in unfilled positions. Now it's down to the 2 percent to 3 percent range.
Jones said one reason for that is the new policy allowing gays to serve.
Now that gays are able to serve, military recruiters in the United Kingdom have more volunteers to choose from, Jones said. Also, having children is often cited by British troops as one reason why they leave the military in their late 20s or 30s. And Jones said because gays and lesbians are less likely to become parents, they tend to stay in the military longer.

During a recent Congressional hearing on the U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell," policy, retired NATO Commander Gen. John Sheehan testified that he believed that the Dutch military's policy of allowing gays to serve was in part to blame for the Dutch military's failure to halt the massacre of Muslims in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in 1995.

"They declared a peace dividend and made a conscious effort to socialize their military," Sheehan testified in March. "That includes the unionization of their militaries. It includes open homosexuality demonstrated in a series of other activities."

"That led to a force that was ill-equipped to go to war. The case-in-point that I'm referring to is when the Dutch were required to defend Srebrenica against the Serbs. The battalion was under-strength, poorly led," Sheehan said.

Sheehan later backtracked on his testimony, but it still grates on the Dutch.

"I was in Srebrenica myself, I was a company commander, I was there. I had a full professional company," Matthijssen of the Dutch army told CNN.

"The homosexual, sexuality that he (Sheehan) suggested would have affected that unit, that is absolutely not the case."

Matthijssen added, "There was good cohesion within the unit, the unit was effective. But the unit was put in a place - based on political decisions within the U.N., within the international community - with too (few) troops, too few means, not the mandate to really fight and overwhelm ... That's what really happened."

Matthijssen insisted allowing gays to serve openly has made the Royal Dutch Army better.

"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," he said.

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Filed under: Gay and lesbian • Military
soundoff (93 Responses)
  1. Hohoho

    What kind of freedom are you fighting for? Who's freedom? Who's rights? If you can't stand up for all Americans then perhaps you should go and fight for someone who likes to discriminate. Bin Landen ring a bell?

    May 19, 2010 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
  2. DAS


    May 19, 2010 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • George Guadiane - Austerlitz, NY


      May 19, 2010 at 9:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pete

      Yes. Now go back to sleep.

      May 19, 2010 at 9:18 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Hohoho

    Correction... Laden... wouldn't want him blowing me up.

    May 19, 2010 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse |
  4. DAS


    May 19, 2010 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • George Guadiane - Austerlitz, NY

      Because EVERYTHING smells like Communism to you?

      May 19, 2010 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. JonH

    Because you're a simple-minded fool.

    May 19, 2010 at 9:16 pm | Report abuse |
  6. amanohyo

    ding, not only are you a juvenile doofus, your pathetic sense of humor is about fifty years out of date. The amount of willful ignorance you display is staggering. Who the hell cares who would beat whom in a fist fight? It's 2010 you complete and utter moron. Time to stop living in the past and grow up.

    May 19, 2010 at 9:21 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Kaden

    I'm a bit confused about how a gay guy or lesbian would suddenly forget all their training and run over and hump the opposing army. Or maybe they'd flutter their feather boa and cook up a hearty souffle instead of fighting. What planet are you from? There are already gay people in the military and how often do you see that happening? I mean, ok, I find the anti gay commentary hilarious, but when I'm done laughing, I'd really like to know we have dedicated men and women who have chosen to put themselves in harm's way for us all. That's all they are at that point; heroes.

    May 19, 2010 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Doug

    It's amazing this is even an issue here ! Everyone in the military fights for the basic beliefs we all hold dear " freedom and justice for all" not just straights.... So, if you can't adhere to our basic laws, then move out of this country !

    May 19, 2010 at 9:28 pm | Report abuse |
  9. AJ

    There's plenty of proof that the rest of the world's armies are successful with orientation not an issue. What is your proof that orientation would weaken our military? "because i said so, categorically" is not an argument...

    May 19, 2010 at 9:28 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Tom

    Just because we stand alone, doesn't mean we are wrong...

    May 19, 2010 at 9:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • PeterW

      True, Tom. The fact that we are wrong about this is proven by about ninety-nine other things. (A few of them are mentioned in the above article–as will have been noticed by anyone who read it and was able to understand it.)

      May 19, 2010 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Tim

    why should we change the rules to openly allow gays who make a "choice", " lifestyle" or "handicap" (if it's genetic, I guess it's considered a birth defect) Face it, Tab A was meant to go into slot B – not Tab A into Tab A. Oh, I forget – America has become a nation of being such politically correct that you can't say anything about anyone for fear of offending them. One nation under God? hmmmmmm, I'm not so sure anymore.

    May 19, 2010 at 9:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • JP

      i'll assume you're straight. when did you make that choice?

      May 19, 2010 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse |
  12. tara

    wait – isn't it 2010? how is this seriously still an issue? grow up USA.

    May 19, 2010 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |
  13. AJ

    "What makes somebody gay" is a red herring. There's nothing more to this than whether or not gays should be allowed to serve openly. And that we are the only western nation that thinks it's an issue. Must be that American gays are different from the others.

    May 19, 2010 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse |
  14. kevin

    Aranhas<<< proves there should be don't ask don't tell policy for flipping idiots!

    May 19, 2010 at 9:36 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Tim

    JP, it wasn't a choice, it's natural for me to be straight. so, if we negate "choice" out of the equation, it must be a birth defect then

    May 19, 2010 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • JP

      wow. straight *and* retarded.

      your reasoning is breathtaking.

      May 19, 2010 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
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