Monday, May 21, 2007

NYT Gays in UK Military Story Omits MoD Bullying Reports

(Photo credit: Rainbow flag, with UK Ministry of Defence symbol superimposed.)

The New York Times today prints a very positive article about the generally favorable acceptance of open gay people in the armed forces of the United Kingdom.

From the Times:

Since the British military began allowing homosexuals to serve in the armed forces in 2000, none of its fears — about harassment, discord, blackmail, bullying or an erosion of unit cohesion or military effectiveness — have come to pass, according to the Ministry of Defense, current and former members of the services and academics specializing in the military. The biggest news about the policy, they say, is that there is no news. It has for the most part become a nonissue.

However, a check of the minutes for the gay steering committee of the UK Ministry of Defence documents that at its May 7 meeting, there is indeed a problem, and it may be expanding. Was the NYT reporter unaware of these minutes from earlier this month?

Excerpted from the LGBT steering committee files:

The committee members discussed harassment and bullying by some military people attending courses or workshops to which our members attended recently, and this seems to be getting worse. Chris mentioned about 2 incidents he witnessed whilst taking a recent training course. Ian mentioned an incident during which he challenged homophobic remarks also.

Further searching the ministry's web site, I found another recent publication, giving historical background to some of the problems gay have faced in the UK armed forces.

From a MoD diversity panel briefing paper:

o In a survey I conducted in Summer 04 of LGB staff, nearly two-thirds had directly experienced homophobic abuse at work.
o This abuse included homophobic joke telling, malicious phone calls at home, use of homophobic language such as queer, dyke or poof, being told by a line manager that being gay was “perverse and disgusting”, pamphlets being left in toilets reminding people that AIDS is the wrath of God against homosexuality and so on.
o The Steering Committee has requested the Equalities directors from both the Defence Academy and dbLearning to attend the December LGBT Forum to advise on how sexual orientation is covered in MoD diversity training.
o We will continue to raise the profile of the LGBT Forum in order to generate a more inclusive culture within the MoD.

Despite those problems, I don't want to overlook what appears to be a generally favorable and tolerant military environment for gays in the UK forces. I give two snaps up to the Ministry of Defence for maintaining a very informative and comprehensive web site full of resources for the gay community and the ministry. Click here to check it out.

When, not if, the US gets around to joining the modern and civilized world of nations that allow gays to serve openly, we could learn a lot from the UK experience of integrating gays into the forces.

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