Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Gay in the Navy: Openly Gay Troops Who Fought in the Iraqi War Say They Were Accepted in Their Units. They Wonder Why the U.S. Still Has "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Gay in the Navy: Openly Gay Troops Who Fought in the Iraqi War Say They Were Accepted in Their Units. They Wonder Why the U.S. Still Has "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Article excerpt

In February 2003 openly gay Royal Navy lieutenant Rolf Kurth, 37, was in the Persian Gulf helping the international coalition of forces invade Iraq. In February 2004 the British man accepted a vastly different but no less stressful mission to Washington, D.C.: convincing lawmakers that openly gay men and women should be able to serve in the U.S. armed forces.

Kurth arrived in the nation's capital accompanied by Royal Navy lieutenant commander Craig A. Jones and Aaron Belkin, director of the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military. The men met with congressional staff and addressed an audience at the National Defense University. Belkin shared his center's research; Kurth and Jones shared their experiences of serving in the Royal Navy, out and proud, alongside U.S. troops.

The United Kingdom lifted its ban on gay military service members in January 2000 after pressure from the European Court of Human Rights. "Changing the British policy changed lives, and it changed the environment we lived in," Kurth says.

It's been a little more than a decade since the Pentagon implemented its infamous "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which in theory allows gay military personnel to serve but forbids them to come out. In 2002 the Defense Department discharged 906 service members under the policy, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. The experience with U.K. forces proves that the Pentagon's rationale for "don't ask" is akin to a old-time traveling salesman's pitch for "snake oil," says Belkin. The center's "Multinational Military Units and Homosexual Personnel" study analyzed multinational military coalitions and the relationships between American and gay British, Dutch, Australian, and Canadian troops. "There was no compromise of any unit's ability to achieve its mission," Belkin says.

Jones, who joined the Royal Navy in 1989, tins served in counterdrug operations and been assigned to posts from the Atlantic to the Adriatic as well as in security operations in the Persian Gulf with U. …

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