Gays in Arms: Can Gays in the Military Work? in Countries around the World, They Already Do

By Konigsberg, Eric | The Washington Monthly, November 1992 | Go to article overview

Gays in Arms: Can Gays in the Military Work? in Countries around the World, They Already Do


Konigsberg, Eric, The Washington Monthly


Maybe Fort Bragg cadet Hallie Weinstein would have been better off if she had agreed to date the captain who asked her out. Once spurned, he began snooping into Weinstein's private life and reported to her superiors that she was a lesbian, a revelation that got her and her lover thrown out of the military. Surely Weinstein would have been better off had she been a soldier in the Dutch army.

In the United States, the debate over gays in the military remains a war of abstracts: Defenders of the status quo rehash fears about unwelcome advances in the showers and warn darkly of morale problems, while critics of the gay ban continue to lob rocks at the policy from the moral high ground of human rights. But with our policy stuck in hypotheticals, the strongest argument for gays in the military is quietly made elsewhere--in countries such as Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Israel, and to a lesser extent France, where gays have already been integrated into the armed forces. While the Pentagon pursues a policy that every year hounds 1,000 able-bodied gay men and women out of the service--wasting $27 million in training costs annually--other countries demonstrate that with the fight mix of education and cajoling, a military with gays can work.

Take Holland, where an estimated 12,000 soldiers--10 percent of the total force--are gay. Holland's government considered homosexuality grounds for dismissal until 1974, when the Association of Dutch Homosexuals convinced the minister of defense that gays posed no threat to national security. Nevertheless, gays could still legally be passed over for promotion simply because of their sexual orientation. But in 1986, Rene Holtel, then a major, was told by his commander that though he was an excellent officer, "he wouldn't want me to rise in rank because I was gay." Holtel went to his superiors and fought the camouflage ceiling, which was abolished in 1987, leading to the birth of the Foundation for Homosexuality in the Military, which Holtel, now elevated to lieutenant colonel, chairs.

Holland's success stems from its effort to educate soldiers. Already required of officers and noncommissioned officers in the air force, and soon to be mandatory in the army and navy, is a four-day course known as Aeen Kwastie van Kyken, which roughly translates to "It's in the eye of the beholder." The seminar is designed to teach sensitivity toward minorities in the military, in particular women, blacks, and gays. Apparently it works. Rob Segaar, a 29-year-old veteran of the navy, summed up the Dutch attitude this way: "Suppose you're on the beach in a skimpy bathing suit. The guy next to you might be gay. Does that harm your morale? Is that dangerous?" Army doctors, priests, and psychiatrists will soon be required to complete coursework that will enable them to offer guidance to soldiers struggling with the decision to "come out." The Dutch department of defense recently published a booklet on homosexuality containing pictures of a lesbian couple embracing near a ship and a young man greeting his boyfriend in Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport after a stint in Lebanon.

Denmark is another success story. There, success with gays in the military is the product of necessity: Service is mandatory and the country needs all the warm bodies it can muster. Discrimination and harassment have been outlawed in the Danish army since 1981, and are grounds for expulsion. The result: Danish gayrights advocates boast of prominent and openly gay military leaders and the armed services report no cases of threats to gays, morale, or national security since the policy was initiated. "It's not something you think about," says Stephen Arynczuk, a second lieutenant in the Danish air force. "Homosexuality, we know it's legal and it's not an issue." Asked what kinds of problems were encountered with gays among their ranks, Danish Brig. General Kristian Anderson responded, "Problems? No, should there be? I've been in the air force since 1954, and I can't remember one problem caused by someone being a homosexual. …

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