The LGBT Military Index ranks over 100 countries in an instant, transparent, systematic, and comparable overview of 19 policies and best practices. The Index is an invaluable resource for policymakers, stakeholders, and advocates interested in promoting greater inclusion of LGBT personnel within armed forces. Advancing diversity is critically important for defense organizations to survive and thrive in the 21st security environment.
The top 10 countries in the Index stand out for their multiple concerted efforts to improve LGBT inclusion. Most of them have organizations dedicated to support and advocacy for LGBT service members and their rights. The Netherlands (joint #2) Foundation for Homosexuality and Armed Forces was the first such organization, and was founded in 1987. New Zealand, at #1 recently produced a video for the It Gets Better Project, which reaches out to young people struggling with their sexuality. Most of the leading armed forces are officially represented at gay pride events, including the UK (joint #2).
The middle of the index highlights cases where the military leads by example in society, and cases where opportunities exist for the military to catch up with societies which are already inclusive of LGBT personnel. A case of the former is Israel (#9), who opened service to LGBT individuals in the early 1990s, and where military benefits for same-sex couples exceed civilian recognition. A case of the latter is the USA (#40): despite the end of Don't Ask Don't Tell, the Department of Defense treats transgender people as mentally ill, and systematically roots them out for discharge. This despite widespread state and federal recognition of gender identities, and the fact that transgender people are twice as likely as anyone else to serve in the American military.
Countries near the bottom of the index clearly do not aspire to engage in greater inclusion for their LGBT military personnel-a fact which reflects the societies those militaries represent. But they do engage in military cooperation with countries where it is common for LGBT people to serve openly. Turkey at #77 is by far the lowest-scoring NATO member. Situations arising when an openly gay officer works with colleagues from a military that considers him inherently mentally ill are a matter rarely discussed by the more inclusive countries, or by NATO itself. Further afield, the dire situation faced by LGBT people in the Middle East and Africa raises questions hitherto unasked about what support, briefings, and protections should be offered to personnel whose sexual orientation or gender identity could make them vulnerable to persecution.
The HCSS study spearheads a new generation of research on LGBT service. Over the years, numerous studies have tested claims that open LGBT service is a bad thing. These claims are invariably debunked by scientific research and the real life experiences of armed forces. For those who are satisfied that LGBT service is not a negative thing, the question becomes how it can be made a positive thing for LGBT personnel, for their heterosexual peers, and for armed forces themselves.
Valuing the differences of individual service members and integrating them into the way the armed forces work is a matter of dignity and human rights for those willing to risk their lives for their country. But it is more than that: it is a matter of military effectiveness. Recruiting and retaining skilled personnel means judging them based on talent rather than sexual orientation and gender identity. Morale is higher when people feel recognized and respected at work. Cohesion is improved when colleagues can communicate openly. Trust is undermined by the suspicion that a person has something to hide. And blackmail blights those who keep secrets because their sexuality or gender identity puts their job, security, or life at risk. Military leaders throughout the developed world are now engaging in discussions about how not only to cope with increasing diversity within the military, but to turn it into an opportunity.
Later this year, HCSS will publish a report on a strategic vision for the future of LGBT inclusion in armed forces.