Open Service and Our Allies: A Report on the Inclusion of Openly Gay and Lesbian Servicemembers in U.S. Allies' Armed Forces

Goldberg, Suzanne B.

In the wake of the Obama Administration’s pledge to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the United States, the Columbia Law School Sexuality & Gender Law Clinic undertook a review of how allies of the United States moved from a policy of banning gay and lesbian servicemembers from serving in the armed forces to a policy of allowing these servicemembers to serve openly (“open service”). In documenting this review, this report aims to provide information about the decision to implement open service and the mechanics of the transition to open service in Australia, Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom. In addition to addressing concerns about the effect of open service on unit cohesion and morale, this report also includes information about how the militaries of Australia, Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom have implemented their open service policies on the ground. The report examines, as well, the ways in which U.S. soldiers have worked as part of multinational forces with members of other militaries that have open service policies.

Open Service and Our Allies shows that no significant problems have arisen as a result of a transition to open service. Notably, not one country studied in this report has made any changes to its housing or bathrooms. Moreover, although all of the countries studied in this report have reported scattered incidents of harassment, this report also shows that there has been no pervasive discrimination against or harassment of gay and lesbian servicemembers. Whereas some countries achieved a successful transition through educational and sensitivity training, others have not addressed harassment of gay and lesbian servicemembers in their trainings. The common thread, instead, has been an emphasis on strong leadership and a clear statement of the behavior that is expected of servicemembers. This report also shows that none of the countries studied have experienced a decline in unit cohesion or morale. To the contrary, many of the countries studied have seen an increase in morale due to servicemembers’ increased ability to focus on work, rather than on hiding their sexual orientation, and a decrease in paranoia and suspicion as a result of the new open environment.

Overall, this report shows that the transition to open service in Australia, Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom was smooth, although not always flawless, and provides some insight into what such a transition might look like in the United States.

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William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law

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March 6, 2020