Sexual orientation and military service

LGBT personnel are able to serve in the armed forces of some countries around the world: the vast majority of industrialized, Western countries, in addition to Brazil, Chile,[1][2] South Africa, Israel, and South Korea.[3]

This keeps pace with the latest global figures on acceptance of homosexuality, which suggest that tolerance of LGBT communities is becoming more widespread only in secular, affluent countries.[4]

However, an accepting policy toward gay and lesbian soldiers does not invariably guarantee that LGBT citizens are immune to discrimination in that particular society. Even in countries where LGBT persons are free to serve in the military, activists lament that there remains room for improvement. Israel, for example, a country that otherwise struggles to implement LGBT-positive social policy, nevertheless has a military well known for its broad acceptance of openly gay soldiers.[5][6]

History has seen societies that both embrace and shun openly gay service-members in the military. But more recently, the high-profile 2010 hearings on Don't Ask, Don't Tell in the United States propelled the issue to the center of international attention. They also shed light both on the routine discrimination, violence, and hardship faced by LGBT-identified soldiers, as well as arguments for and against a ban on their service.[7]

LGBT Military Index

The LGBT Military Index is an index created by The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies that uses 19 indicative policies and best practices to rank over 100 countries on the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service members in the armed forces. Countries with higher rankings, especially the ones at the top, stand out for their multiple concerted efforts to promote the inclusion of gay and lesbian soldiers. In many of them special support and advocacy organizations are present. By contrast, countries near the bottom of the index show the lack of aspiration to promote greater inclusion of the LGBT military personnel.[8][9][10]

History of sexual orientation in the military

Throughout history, there have been several cultures which have looked favorably on homosexual behavior in the military. Perhaps the most well-known example is found in ancient Greece and Rome. Homosexual behavior was encouraged among soldiers because it was thought to increase unit cohesiveness, morale and bravery.[11] The Sacred Band of Thebes was a military unit from 378 BCE which consisted of male lovers who were known for their effectiveness in battle.[12] Same-sex love was also prevalent among the Samurai class in Japan and was practiced between an adult and a younger apprentice.[13]

However, homosexual behavior has been considered a criminal offense according to civilian and military law in most countries throughout history. There are various accounts of trials and executions of members of the Knights Templar in the 14th Century and British sailors during the Napoleonic wars for homosexuality.[14] Official bans on gays serving in the military first surfaced in the early 20th century. The U.S. introduced a ban in a revision of the Articles of War of 1916 and the UK first prohibited homosexuality in the Army and Air Force Acts in 1955.[15] However some nations, of which Sweden is the most well known case, never introduced bans on homosexuality in the military, but issued recommendations on exempting homosexuals from military service.[16]

To regulate homosexuality in the U.S. military, physical exams and interviews were used to spot men with effeminate characteristics during recruitment. Many soldiers accused of homosexual behavior were discharged for being "sexual psychopaths", although the number of discharges greatly decreased during wartime efforts.[17]

The rationale for excluding gays and lesbians from serving in the military is often rooted in cultural norms and values and has changed over time. Originally, it was believed that gays were not physically able to serve effectively. The pervading argument during the 20th century focused more on military effectiveness. And finally, more recent justifications include the potential for conflict between heterosexual and homosexual service members and possible “heterosexual resentment and hostility.”[18]

Many countries have since revised these policies and allow gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military (e.g. Israel in 1993 and the UK in 2000). There are currently 26 countries which allow gays and lesbians to serve and around 10 more countries that don't outwardly prohibit them from serving.[19]

The U.S. is one of the last more developed nations to overturn its ban on allowing gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military when it repealed the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy in 2010.[20]

Violence faced by LGBT people in the military

Physical, sexual, psychological (harassment, bullying) violence faced by LGBT is a fact of life for many LGBT identified persons. In an inherently violent environment, LGBT people may face violence unique to their community in the course of military service.

For instance, the Israeli Defense Force does not ask the sexual orientation of its soldiers, however half of the homosexual soldiers who serve in the IDF suffer from violence and homophobia. LGBT soldiers are often victims of verbal and physical violence and for the most part, commanders ignore the phenomenon.[21]

SAPRO, the organization responsible for the oversight of Department of Defense (DoD - USA) sexual assault policy, produces the “Workplace and Gender Relations Survey of Active Duty Member (WGRA)”: The 2012 report doesn’t have any paragraph studying the specific situation of LGBT people. The study focuses on men and women. The specificity of the violence faced by LGBT people is not considered.[22]

In the Australian army, the problem is not known officially, only few cases of harassment and discrimination involving gays and lesbians have been recorded. A researcher mentioned that "one would not want to be gay and in the military": Although there has been no major public scandal regarding harassment of gays, this does not mean that such behavior does not occur, but it has been under-studied. Generally, however, incidents of discrimination or harassment brought to the attention of commanders are handled appropriately, incidents in which peers who had made inappropriate remarks are disciplined by superiors promptly and without reservation.[23]

Transgender military service

Like sexual orientation, policies regulating the service of transgender military personnel vary greatly by country. Based on data collected by the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies[24] eighteen countries currently allow transgender people to serve in their military. They are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.[25]

While the US military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy was rescinded in 2011 allowing open service by gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members, transgender people are still barred from entering the US Military.[26] This ban is effective via enlistment health screening regulations: "Current or history of psychosexual conditions (302), including but not limited to transsexualism, exhibitionism, transvestism, voyeurism, and other paraphilias."[27] Unlike Don't Ask, Don't Tell, this policy is not a law mandated by Congress, but an internal military policy. Despite this, studies suggest that the propensity of trans individuals to serve in the US military is as much as twice that as cisgender individuals. In the Harvard Kennedy School's 2013 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 20% of transgender respondents reported having served in the armed forces, compared with 10% of cisgender respondents.[28][29]

American transgender veterans face institutional hardships, including the provision of medical care while in the armed services and after discharge stemming from their gender identity or expression. Transgender veterans may also face additional challenges, such as facing a higher rate of homelessness and home foreclosure, higher rates of losing jobs often directly stemming from their trans identity, and high rates of not being hired for specific jobs because of their gender identity.[29][30]

Discrimination in militaries without explicit limitations or welcoming

In the US army, six states (Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and West Virginia) are refusing to comply with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s order that gay spouses of National Guard members be given the same federal marriage benefits as heterosexual spouses, forcing couples to travel hours round trip to the nearest federal installation. Furthermore, some benefits offered on bases, like support services for relatives of deployed service members, could still be blocked.[31] Recent legal changes are claimed to revert practices to those before Don't Ask, Don't Tell's repeal: the US 2013 National Defense Authorization Act contains language some claim permit individuals to continue discriminating against LGB soldiers.[32] Further, throughout the US army, transgender people are suffering from discrimination: they are prohibited from serving openly because of medical regulations that label them as mentally unstable.[33] On the contrary, in Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, and United Kingdom, as of 2010, when civil partnerships became legal in the respective countries, military family benefits followed the new laws, without discrimination.[34]

Fear of discrimination may prevent military service members to be open about their sexual orientation. In some cases, in Belgium, homosexual personnel have been transferred from their unit if they have been "too open with their sexuality." The Belgian military also continues to reserve the right to deny gay and lesbian personnel high-level security clearances, for fear they may be susceptible to blackmail.[35] In 1993, a study showed that in Canada, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands and Norway, the number of openly homosexual service members was small, representing only a minority of homosexuals actually serving. Serving openly may make their service less pleasant or impede their careers, even though there were no explicit limitations to serve. Thus service members who acknowledged their homosexuality were "appropriately" circumspect in their behavior while in military situations; i.e. they did not call attention to themselves.[36] Today, in the Danish army, LGBT military personnel refrain from being completely open about their homosexuality. Until training is completed and a solid employment is fixed they fear losing respect, authority and privileges, or in worse cases their job in the Danish army.[37] In 2010, the same updated study showed that in Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy and United Kingdom, no special treatment to prevent discrimination was in place in those armies, the issue is not specifically addressed, it is left to the leadership discretion. Commanders told that sexual harassment of women by men poses a far greater threat to unit performance than anything related to sexual orientation.[34]

On the contrary, Dutch military directly addressed the issue of enduring discrimination, by forming the Homosexuality and Armed Forces Foundation, a trade union that continues to represent gay and lesbian personnel to the ministry of defense, for a more tolerant military culture. Although homosexuals in the Dutch military rarely experience any explicitly aggressive acts against them, signs of homophobia and cultural insensitivity are still present.[35]

Being LGBT in the military

In the United States, despite policy changes allowing for open LGBQ military service and the provision of some benefits to same-sex military couples, cultures of homophobia and discrimination persist.[38]

Several academics have written on the effects on employees in non-military contexts concealing their sexual orientation in the workplace. Writers on military psychology have linked this work to the experiences of LGBQ military service personnel, asserting that these studies offer insights into the lives of open LGBQ soldiers and those who conceal their orientation.[39] Sexual orientation concealment and sexual orientation linked harassment are stressors for LGBT individuals that lead to negative experiences and deleterious job-related outcomes. Specifically, non-open LGBT persons are found to experience social isolation.[39][40] In particular these products of work related stress can affect military job performance, due to the high reliance on connection and support for the well-being of all service members.[39][41][42][43]

In the United States LGBQ soldiers are not required to disclose their sexual orientation, suggesting that some LGBQ service members may continue to conceal their sexual orientation.[44] Studies suggest this could have harmful effects for the individual. A 2013 study conducted at the University of Montana found that non-open LGB US veterans face significantly higher rates of depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and alcohol or other substance abuse than their heterosexual counterparts. These veterans also reported facing significant challenges serving while concealing their sexual orientation; 69.3% of subjects in the study reported experiencing fear or anxiety as a result of concealing their sexual identity, and 60.5% reported that those experiences led to a more difficult time for the respondent than heterosexual colleagues. This study also concludes that 14.7% of LGB American veterans made serious attempts at suicide.[45] This rate of suicide attempts compares to another study of the entire American veteran community that found .0003% of American veterans attempt suicide.[46]

Evidence suggests that for LGB service members in the United States, the conditions of service and daily life have improved dramatically following the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Soldiers who choose to come out experience feelings of liberation, and report that no longer having to hide their orientation allows them to focus on their jobs.[47] Support groups for LGB soldiers have also proliferated in the United States.[48]

Arguments for including openly LGBT people

Until recently, many countries banned gays and lesbians from serving openly in the armed forces. The reasons to enforce this ban included the potential negative impact on unit cohesion and privacy concerns. However, many studies commissioned to examine the effects on the military found that little evidence existed to support the discriminatory policy.[49] Moreover, when the bans were repealed in several countries including the UK, Canada, and Australia, no large scale issues arose as a result.[50]

In fact, several studies provide evidence that allowing gays and lesbians to openly serve in the armed forces can result in more positive work related outcomes. Firstly, discharging trained military personnel for their sexual orientation is costly and results in loss of talent. The total cost for such discharges in the U.S for violating the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy amounted to more than 290 million dollars.[51] Secondly, privacy for service members has actually increased in countries with inclusive policies and led to a decrease in harassment. Although, it is important to note that many gays and lesbians do not disclose their sexual orientation once the ban is repealed.[52] Finally, allowing gays to openly serve ends decades of discrimination in the military and can lead to a more highly-qualified pool of recruits. For instance, the British military reduced its unfilled position gap by more than half after allowing gays to openly serve.[53] Therefore, more evidence exists now to support policies that allow gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military.

Arguments for not including openly LGBT people

The arguments against allowing openly gay servicemen and women in the military abound. While most research data have all but debunked traditional arguments in favor of policies like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, homosexuality is still perceived by most countries to be incompatible with military service.[54]

A recurrent argument for a ban on homosexuals in the military rests on the assumption that, in the face of potentially homosexual members of their unit, prospective recruits would shy away from military service. Based on an inconclusive study produced by the RAND Corporation in the run-up to the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, American military recruits were expected to decrease by as much as 7%.[55] However, this does not appear to have materialized.[56]

In a line of work that regularly demands that personnel be in close living quarters, allowing openly homosexual servicemen is argued to flout a fundamental tenet of military service: ensuring that soldiers remain undistracted from their mission. If gay men are allowed to shower with their fellow male soldiers, so goes the argument, this would, in effect, violate the "unique conditions" of military life by putting sexually compatible partners in close proximity, with potentially adverse effects on retention and morale of troops.[57] Testimony advanced during the hearings on Don't Ask, Don't Tell of 1993, with US Senator Sam Nunn and General Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. recalled "“instances where heterosexuals have been solicited to commit homosexual acts, and, even more traumatic emotionally, physically coerced to engage in such acts.”[58]

Military historian Mackubin Thomas Owens conjectured in an Op-Ed for The Wall Street Journal that gay men and women would be partial to their lovers in the heat of battle. "Does a superior order his or her beloved into danger," Owens asks, "if he or she demonstrates favoritism, what is the consequence for unit morale and discipline? What happens when jealousy rears its head?" Owens echoes the fear that allowing gay soldiers would be deleterious to unit cohesion on the battlefield, arguing that concern for one's lover in a given unit could override any sense of loyalty to the unit as a whole, particularly in situations of life and death.[59]

Owens further asserts that homosexuality may be incompatible with military service because it undermines the very ethos of a military, that is, one of nonsexual "friendship, comradeship or brotherly love."[59]

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, a socially conservative advocacy organization, believes that allowing openly homosexual soldiers threatens the religious liberty of servicemen who disapprove of homosexuality for religious reasons.[60]

Countries that allow openly gay, lesbian and bisexual people to serve

Conceptions and categories of sexual orientation are not universal.[61][62] Language contained in the following entries, as much as possible, reflects local usage or official doctrine.


Gays and lesbians have been allowed to serve in the Military of Albania since 2008.[63]


As of 2009, the Argentine government has officially ended the ban on homosexuals in the Argentine Armed Forces. A new military justice system was put into effect which decriminalizes homosexuality among uniformed members, and moves crimes committed exclusively within the military to the public justice sphere [previously there had been a separate military court system].

Under the old system, homosexuals were not permitted to have access to a military career, at the same time as this sexual orientation was penalized. And, while there are no publicly known former sanctions against homosexuals under the old policy, this does not mean that men and women with that sexual orientation have not been disciplined, and perhaps separated from the armed forces under a mantle of silence. In fact, with this new system, homosexuals who wish to train in the forces should encounter no impediment, nor any military retaliation areas.


Uniformed Australian Defence Force personnel marching in the 2013 Sydney Mardi Gras

Australia has allowed homosexuals to serve openly since 1992.[64][65]


Austria permits homosexuals to serve openly in the Austrian Armed Forces.[66]


The Royal Bahamas Defence Force does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. The government made the announcement in 1998.[67][68]


Belgium permits homosexuals to serve openly in the Belgian Armed Forces.[66] In Belgium, the military accepts gay men and lesbians into service. However, if the behaviour of an individual who is gay or lesbian causes problems, that individual is subject to discipline or discharge. In some cases, homosexual personnel have been transferred from their unit if they have been too open with their sexuality. The Belgian military also continues to reserve the right to deny gay and lesbian personnel high-level security clearances, for fear they may be susceptible to blackmail.[69]


The Military of Bermuda does not discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation, as it is formed by random lottery-style conscription. Officially, members of the Bermuda Regiment are prohibited from discriminating against or harassing soldiers on the basis of sexual orientation;[70] such activities, however, are tolerated by officers, to the extent that one conscript described the Regiment as "the most homophobic environment that exists".[71]


There is no law forbidding lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people from serving in the Brazilian Armed Forces. Sexual orientation and gender identity cannot be an obstacle for entry into the police force or the military in Brazil, and trans women and travestis should make conscription, like Brazilian male citizen. All sexual acts are disallowed between members of the forces, be they heterosexual or homosexual.[72]

The Constitution of Brazil prohibits any form of discrimination in the country. The Brazilian Armed Forces does not permit desertion, sexual acts or congeners in the military, whether heterosexual or homosexual. They claim that it is not a homophobic rule, but a rule of discipline that also includes the opposite sex.[73]

In 2008, during the disappearance of a military gay couple, the Ministry of Defence of Brazil spoke: "the sergeant is to be questioned about alleged desertion from the military and there is no question of discrimination." The two soldiers said they had been in a stable relationship for ten years in the Brazilian military.[74]

No information currently exists as to whether military personnel can have their same-sex relationships recognized by the military, despite the fact that federal government employees can receive benefits for their same-sex spouses. Following the Supreme Federal Tribunal decision in favor of civil unions, Defense Minister Nelson Jobim guaranteed the Ministry's compliance with the decision and mentioned that spousal benefits can be accorded to same-sex spouses of military personnel.[75][76]

According to a survey conducted by the Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA) in 2012, 63.7% of Brazilians support the entry of LGBTs in the Brazilian Armed Forces, and do not see it as a problem.[77]


Bulgaria's Protection Against Discrimination Act of 2006 protects individuals from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in relation to recruitment to the military.[78]


As of 1992, lesbians, gays and bisexuals are allowed to serve openly in the military. A study of gays and lesbians in the Canadian military has found that after Canada’s 1992 decision to allow homosexuals to serve openly in its armed forces, military performance did not decline.[79][80]

The study is the most comprehensive academic study by US researchers of homosexuality in a foreign military ever compiled and reflects an exhaustive inventory of relevant data and research. Its title is "Effects of the 1992 Lifting of Restrictions on Gay and Lesbian Service in the Canadian Forces; Appraising the Evidence".

A news article by Canadian journalist, Jon Tattrie, reported on the changed attitude towards the presence of homosexual members of the Canadian Forces in his article "Being Gay in the Military" (Metro Ottawa), quoting Canadian Forces spokesperson Rana Sioufi as saying: “Members who are same-sex partners are entitled to the same respect and dignity as heterosexual married couples or common-law partners.”[81]

In the past 20 years, the Canadian Forces has gone from being a homophobic organization that actively hounded out gay and lesbian members to one of the world’s leading advocates of open integration.

—Jon Tattrie, "Being Gay in the Military", Metro Ottawa, August 20, 2010[81]


The Military of Chile does not discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation. Chile bans all anti-gay discrimination since 2012.[82]

On August 13, 2014, The Defense Ministry ordered the creation of a new committee to monitor inclusion and tackle discrimination in the armed forces, a move hailed as a “historic” step by gay rights campaigners. Marcos Robledo, defense undersecretary, announced the formation of a Diversity and Anti-Discrimination Committee with the aim to eradicate arbitrary discrimination in the military. The resolution, signed by Defense Minister Jorge Burgos, established the government as responsible for creating a more inclusive armed services.[83]

Few days later, a sailor in Chile became the first serving member of the Chilean armed forces to announce he is gay.[84] Mauricio Ruiz, 24, told a televised news conference his decision had "not been easy", but he wanted to help fight discrimination against homosexuals. Mr Ruiz said that what was most important was not a soldier's sexual orientation, but his or her willingness to serve the country. His announcement came with the full backing of the Chilean armed. Mauricio Ruiz said homosexuals had "no reason to hide". "We can do anything, be marines or in any branch (of the military). We can do whatever profession, and we deserve as much respect as anyone else," he told reporters in the Chilean capital, Santiago. "In life there's nothing better than to be yourself, to be authentic, to look at people in the eye and for those people to know who you are."

Rolando Jimenez, president of Chile's Movement for Integration and Homosexual Liberation, expressed his gratitude to the Chilean Navy. "(The Navy is) telling the country and the members of the institution particularly that it is possible for gays and lesbians to be part of the armed forces and that they aren't going to suffer discrimination because of their sexual orientation within these institutions," Mr Jimenez said.


In 1999 the Colombian Constitutional Court ruled that the prohibition of homosexuals from serving in the armed forces is unconstitutional.[85]


LGBT persons are not banned from participation in military service. Ministry of Defence has no internal rules regard LGBT persons, but it follows regulation at the state level which explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Some media reports have suggested that most gay men serving in the military generally decide to keep their sexual orientation private, but there have also been reports suggesting that the Croatian Armed Forces take discrimination very seriously and will not tolerate homophobia among its personnel.[86][87]

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic allows homosexuals to serve openly.[66]


Denmark allows homosexuals to serve openly.[66] There are prominent openly gay military leaders in the Danish Armed Forces and there are no reported cases of threats to gays, morale, or national security.[88] A study of the conditions for gay men indicates that gay men in the Danish Armed Forces show strength and are respected.[89]


Estonia allows homosexuals to serve openly in the Military of Estonia.[66]


Finland allows homosexuals to serve openly in the Finnish Defence Forces.[66]


France allows homosexuals to serve openly.[66] On 5 May 2000 The Independent stated:

In France, indifference characterizes the official attitude towards homosexuals in the military. Although homosexuals were not banned from French military service (before military service was suspended in 1998), it is recognized that they may face greater challenges than their heterosexual counterparts. Thus, they were allowed to opt out of military service if they wish by declaring themselves unfit because of their sexual orientation. Commanders and psychiatrists can also discharge gay and lesbian personnel if they feel they are disrupting their units and cannot fit in.[69]


The German Bundeswehr ruled that it is forbidden to discriminate based on sexual orientation. The "Working Committee of Homosexual Employees in the Military Forces"[90] is the organization that represents the interests of gay men and lesbians in the armed forces. Heterosexuals and homosexuals alike are allowed to engage in sexual activity while in the military service as long as it does not interfere with the performance of their duties. Lesbian and gay soldiers are also entitled to enter civil unions as defined by Germany's domestic "partnership" law.[91]

The Bundeswehr maintained a "glass ceiling" policy that effectively banned homosexuals from becoming officers until 2000. First Lieutenant Winfried Stecher, an army officer demoted for his homosexuality, filed a lawsuit against former Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping. Scharping vowed to fight the claim in court, claiming that homosexuality "raises serious doubts about suitability and excludes employment in all functions pertaining to leadership." However, before the case went to trial, the Defense Ministry reversed the discriminatory policy. While the German government declined to issue an official explanation for the reversal, it is widely believed that Scharping was overruled by then Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and then Vice-Chancellor Joschka Fischer.

Currently, according to general military orders given in the year 2000, tolerance towards all sexual orientations is considered to be part of the duty of military personnel. Sexual relationships and acts amongst soldiers outside service times, regardless of the sexual orientation, are defined to be "irrelevant", regardless of the rank and function of the soldier(s) involved, while harassment or the abuse of functions is considered a transgression, as well as the performance of sexual acts in active service.[92]


While the Presidential Decree 133 (of 2002)[93] allowed people to avoid the draft for deep psycho-sexual problems, it did not ban homosexuals from the army. The newer 2005 law 3421[94] has removed even the wording that could be misconstrued as offensive to homosexuals. In recent years, the Hellenic army has been shortening the length of conscription and hiring more and more professional soldiers and there hasn't been any incident of someone being fired for homosexuality.

Republic of Ireland

Homosexuals can serve openly in the Irish Defence Forces.[66][95] Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is illegal.[96]

There has been no preclusion since 1993 when male homosexuality was decriminalised in the Republic of Ireland. Since 1993 there has been significant change to make sure that there was no discrimination in terms of public policy. At the same time as an equal age of consent was introduced for heterosexual and homosexual persons, the Irish Defence Forces announced that they would be treating heterosexual and homosexual members equally. Relationships between senior and junior ranks would continue to be forbidden, as is common in most militaries. There would also be no harassment of gay officers and no questioning of members about their sexuality. The Irish Independent wrote that

In a related development, the Chief of Staff of the Irish Defence Forces, Lieutenant General Noel Bergin, told the Irish Independent on Tuesday that a report on the introduction of a code of conduct governing interpersonal relationships is being prepared. The decision to prepare a report follows a recent announcement by the Minister for Defence, Mr. David Andrews, that military regulations would be modified to take account of any reform in the civil law on homosexuality. Mr Andrews is seen as a member of the liberal wing of the Fianna Fáil party. Lt. Gen Bergin pointed out that the Army does not ask potential recruits about their sexual orientation, and that they had few problems in the past in this area.[97]

The then Minister for Defence David Andrews stated in the Oireachtas (parliament) that "While the question of homosexuality is not specifically covered in Defence Force Regulations the provisions of section 169 of the Defence Act, 1954, provide that acts which are in breach of the criminal law of the State are also deemed to be offences against military law."

Information regarding sexual orientation is not sought from personnel wishing to enlist in the Defence Forces and it is not proposed to change this policy. The Defence forces have a code on interpersonal relationships and guidelines in relation to discrimination.[95]


Israel Defense Forces policies allow gay men and lesbians to serve openly and without discrimination or harassment due to actual or perceived sexual orientation.[98] This was put into effect in 1993 after an IDF reserves officer testified before the Knesset claiming that his rank had been revoked, and that he had been barred from researching sensitive topics in military intelligence, solely because of his sexual identity.[99]

Homosexuals serve openly in the military, including special units, without any discrimination.[100][101] Moreover, homosexuals in the IDF have additional rights, such as the right to take a shower alone if they want to. According to a University of California, Santa Barbara study,[102] a brigadier general stated that Israelis show a "great tolerance" for gay soldiers. Consul David Saranga at the Israeli Consulate in New York, who was interviewed by the St. Petersburg Times, said, “It's a non-issue. You can be a very good officer, a creative one, a brave one, and be gay at the same time.”[100]

In a comprehensive review of interviews with all known experts on homosexuality in the IDF in 2004,[103] researchers were not able to find any data suggesting that Israel’s decision to lift its gay ban undermined operational effectiveness, combat readiness, unit cohesion or morale. In this security-conscious country where the military is considered to be essential to the continued existence of the nation, the decision to include sexual minorities has not harmed IDF effectiveness.

While no official statistics are available for harassment rates of sexual minorities in the IDF, scholars, military officials and representatives of gay organizations alike assert that vicious harassment is rare. A study published by the Israel Gay Youth Movement in January 2012 found that half of the homosexual soldiers who serve in the IDF suffer from violence and homophobia.[104]


The Armed Forces of Italy cannot deny men or women of homosexual orientation to serve within their ranks, as this would be a violation of Constitutional rights. However, much prejudice about homosexuals still exists within the Italian armed forces, so that they generally decide to hide their sexual orientation. In the past, homosexual conduct was grounds for being discharged from the Italian armed forces for reason of insanity, and feigning homosexuality was a very popular way to obtain medical rejection and skip draft.


Japan does not have any rules applying to homosexuals serving in the Self-Defense Forces.[105] The Japan Self-Defense Forces, when being asked about their policy toward gays and lesbians following the U.S. debate during the Clinton presidency, answered that it was not an issue, and individuals within the forces indicated that as long as same-sex relations did not lead to fights or other trouble, there were few, if any, barriers to their inclusion in the armed services.


Lithuania allows homosexuals to serve openly.[66]


Luxembourg allows homosexuals to serve openly.[66]


Malta allows people to serve openly in the armed forces regardless of their sexual orientation. According to the Armed Forces of Malta, a number of openly gay people serve in the AFM, and the official attitude is one of "live and let live", where "a person’s postings and duties depend on their qualifications, not their sexual orientation".[106]


In 1974, the Netherlands was the first country to ban discrimination against gays in the military.[107] The Dutch 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. The Dutch military formed a working group called Homosexuality and Armed Forces to improve the climate for sexual minorities. In the 1980s, this group became the Homosexuality and Armed Forces Foundation, a trade union that continues to represent gay and lesbian personnel to the Ministry of Defense.[69]

New Zealand

In New Zealand it has been legal for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons to serve in the military since New Zealand's Human Rights Act 1993 ended most forms of employment discrimination against lesbians, gay men and bisexuals. New Zealand military leaders did not oppose the end of military service discrimination.[108][109]

After the passing of the Human Rights Act, which prevents discrimination on grounds such as ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. As the act came into law, so came the removal of a passage in the NZDF manual of law that referred to homosexuality as an "unnatural offence". Before 1993, even though the Homosexual Law Reform Act had been passed in 1986, officer training included the actions they ought to take upon the discovery of personnel caught in such acts. The DEFGLIS NZ (Defence Force Gay and Lesbian Information Service) is being formed and will be set up by Christmas 2010. Officers involved hope the support network will act as a sounding board, advice group and social network for regular, reserve and civilian members of the troops. Part of the group's role will be to advise on using inclusive words such as partner instead of wife, or letting people know that a saying such as "that's gay" has made it into common parlance while the term "homo" is offensive.

North Korea

Military law mandates celibacy during the first 10 years of service for all enlistees.[110] Reportedly, male soldiers regularly break this rule, by engaging in casual heterosexual and homosexual affairs; these homosexual relationships have been described as situational sexual behavior rather than a sexual orientation.[111]


Norway allows homosexuals to serve openly in the armed forces.[66][112] Norway, like most of Scandinavia, is very liberal in regards to LGBT-rights and it also became the first country in the world to enact an anti-discrimination law protecting homosexuals in certain areas.

The Norwegian government states: Anyone who in written or verbal form is threatening, scorning, persecuting, or spiteful toward a gay or lesbian person will be punished with fines or prison of up to two years.[113]


Until December 2009, Peru had a ban on openly gay people in the armed forces. However, in December 2009, the Supreme Court of Peru held that sexual orientation cannot be a requirement for entry into the police force or the military. The Government accepted the decision.[114] The ruling said "sexual preference of an individual cannot be a requirement or condition to determine his/her capacity or professional competence, including the police and military career. To state this is not only anachronistic, but it violates the principle of human dignity"


The Philippine government has officially ended, as of 2010, the ban on gays in the military.[115] In July 2012, the Philippine Military Academy announced that it has welcomed openly gay and lesbian applicants into its fold, giving them the opportunity to serve in the military.[116]


Poland allows gays to serve openly in the military.[117]


Portugal allows all citizens to serve openly in the military regardless of sexual orientation, as the constitution explicitly forbids any discrimination on that basis, therefore openly allowing lesbians and gays to serve in the military.[118]

In April 2016, Portugal's armed forces chief General Carlos Jerónimo resigned, days after being summoned to explain comments about gay soldiers made by the deputy head of the military college. President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa accepted the resignation of Jerónimo, who took up the post of chief of staff in 2014. The resignation came after António Grilo, deputy head of the military college, admitted advising parents of young military students in the Portuguese army to withdraw their sons if they were gay "to protect them from the other students". Defence Minister Azeredo Lopes considered any discrimination "absolutely unacceptable".[119]


Homosexuals are allowed to serve openly in the Romanian army. According to the Ministry of Defence's recruitment policy, "it is the right of every Romanian citizen to take part in the military structures of our country, regardless of their sexual orientation."[120]


Before 1993, homosexual acts between consenting males were against the law in Russia,[121] and homosexuality was considered a mental disorder until adoption of ICD-10 in 1999,[122] but even after that military medical expertise statute was in force to continue considering homosexuality a mental disorder which was a reason to deny homosexuals to serve in the military. In 2003, a new military medical expertise statute was adopted; it said people “who have problems with their identity and sexual preferences” can only be drafted during war times.[123] However, this clause contradicted another clause of the same statute which stated that different sexual orientation should not be considered a deviation. This ambiguity was resolved by the Major-General of the Medical Service who clearly stated that new medical statute “does not forbid people of non-standard sexual orientation from serving in the military.”[124] Thereby, as of July 1, 2003, homosexual people in Russia can serve in the military.


In May 2010, the head of the Serbian military (Vojska Srbije) announced that the Serbian Army would accept homosexuals to join. However, this news was not widely covered by media.[125]


Gay men required to attend National Service, but restricted to limited duties.


Slovenia allows individuals to serve openly without discrimination or harassment due to actual or perceived sexual orientation.[126]

South Africa

LGBT people are allowed to serve openly in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF),[66] and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is prohibited by the constitution, statute law and military policy.

The Interim Constitution which was adopted in 1994, and the final Constitution which replaced it in 1997, prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In 1996 the government adopted the White Paper on National Defence, which included the statement that, "In accordance with the Constitution, the SANDF shall not discriminate against any of its members on the grounds of sexual orientation."[127] In 1998 the Department of Defence adopted a Policy on Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, in terms of which recruits may not be questioned about their sexual orientation and the Defence Force officially takes no interest in the lawful sexual behaviour of its members.[128] The sodomy laws were struck down during the same year.

The Equality Act of 2000, which prohibits discrimination, hate speech and harassment, applies to the military just as it does to the rest of society. The Defence Act of 2002 makes it a criminal offence for any SANDF member or Defence Department employee to "denigrate, humiliate or show hostility or aversion to" any person on the grounds of sexual orientation. In 2002 the SANDF extended spousal medical and pension benefits to "partners in a permanent life-partnership",[128] and in 2006 same-sex marriage was legalised.


Homosexuals are allowed to serve openly in the Spanish Army. As of 2009, after the case of Aitor G.R, the courts also ruled that transgender individuals are also permitted to serve in the military.[129]

Swiss military officers participating at Europride 2009 in Zurich


Sweden allows homosexuals to serve openly[66] and was amongst the first nations in the world to allow LGBT people to do so.[16] Gay men could serve openly even before homosexuality was demedicalized (in 1979), as there was no ban on homosexuality in the nation's military. Since 1987 all kind of discrimination, military employment included, due to sexual orientation is banned by constitution. Since 2008 this ban also includes transgender people.[16]

The Swedish Armed Forces states that it actively work for an environment where individuals do not feel it to be necessary to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity.[16][130] In 2015, they launched a Pride campaign featuring a soldier in uniform with the rainbow flag badget to her arm. The text's bold letters translates to “Some things you should not have to camouflage,” followed by the text “Equality is an essential ingredient in a democracy,” say the Swedish Armed Forces. ”In the military, we treat them with respect and see the differences of others as a fortress. We are an inclusive organisation where all the people who serve and contribute feel welcome and respected.”[131]


Switzerland's military policies also allow for gay men and lesbians to serve openly without discrimination or harassment due to actual or perceived sexual orientation.[91]


Taiwan repealed its ban on conscripting gay people into the military in 2002.[132] Following an announcement by the Republic of China Armed Forces that it would end a policy banning gays from guarding high level officials and government installations, scholars and military officials said the decision signaled a bold step for an Asian military force. The policy change was announced after a local newspaper revealed the discriminatory practice, prompting protest demonstrations in Taipei, the nation's capital.

Col. Liu of the ROC Naval Attache said that ending the ban on gays in the military police was "a good thing for a democratic society like ours. I don't think this is really a big deal," he said. "It just means Taiwanese society is more open and there are different choices now. If you're gay and you can do the job, that's fine."[132]


In 2005, the Thai armed forces lifted its ban on LGBT serving in the military. Prior to this reform, LGBT people were exempted as suffering from a "mental disorder" law of 1954.[133][134]

United Kingdom

Until 2000, the British Ministry of Defence (MOD) policy was to continue the long standing ban on homosexuals joining any of the Armed Forces, most recently being based on a 1996 report by the Homosexuality Policy Assessment Team, which asserted that to allow gays in the military would be bad for morale, and leave them vulnerable to blackmail from foreign intelligence agencies. As a consequence, around 60 people were dismissed annually from the services for being gay;[135] 298 were dismissed in 1999, the year before the ban was lifted.[136] A legal challenge to this stance was taken up by four people who had been investigated and dismissed for being gay — a female nurse and male administrator dismissed from the Royal Air Force, and a Lieutenant Commander and naval rating, both males, dismissed from the Royal Navy. Their legal challenge was supported by the pressure groups Liberty and Stonewall. After losing the case at the Court of Appeal in London, they appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. In September 1999, this court ruled that investigations by military authorities into a service person's sexuality breaches their right to privacy (Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights). In light of the ruling (which as an ECHR ruling applies to the militaries of all member states of the EU and of the Council of Europe), the MOD subsequently lifted the ban, and began allowing gay people into the services from 2000 onwards. According to a national opinion poll published a week before the ruling, the ban had been opposed by 68% of Britons.[135][137]

In 2010, following defeat of repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' by the United States Senate, the Colonel Mark Abraham, head of Faith and Diversity for the British Army, told People Management magazine the lifting of the ban on gays serving in the military in 2000 had "no notable change at all... We got to the point where the policy was incompatible with military service and there was a lack of logic and evidence to support it... We knew a lot of gay and lesbian people were serving quite successfully, and it was clear that sexual orientation wasn’t an indication of how good a soldier or officer you could be... The reality was that those serving in the army were the same people the day after we lifted the ban, so there was no notable change at all. Everybody carried on with their duties and had the same working relationships as they previously had while the ban was in place" Colonel Abraham argues that the lifting of the ban actually made the armed forces more productive: "A lot of gay and lesbian soldiers who were in the army before the ban was lifted, reported that a percentage of their efforts was spent looking over their shoulder and ensuring they weren’t going to be caught. That percentage of time can now be devoted to work and their home life, so actually they are more effective than they were before."[99][138]

Current policy

The MOD's policy since 12 January 2000 is to allow homosexual men, lesbians and transgender personnel to serve openly, and discrimination on a sexual orientation basis is forbidden.[91] It is also forbidden for someone to pressure LGBT people to come out. All personnel are subject to the same rules against sexual harassment, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

The British military actively recruits gay men and lesbians, all three services have deployed recruiting teams to gay pride events, and punishes any instance of intolerance or bullying. The Royal Navy advertises for recruits in gay magazines and has allowed gay sailors to hold civil partnership ceremonies on board ships and, since 2006, to march in full naval uniform at gay pride marches. British Army and Royal Air Force personnel could march but had to wear civilian clothes until 2008, now all military personnel are permitted to attend gay pride marches in uniform.[139]

Speaking at a conference sponsored by the gay advocacy group Stonewall in 2006, Vice Admiral Adrian Johns, the Second Sea Lord, said that homosexuals had always served in the military but in the past had to do it secretly. “That’s an unhealthy way to be, to try and keep a secret life in the armed services,” said Vice Admiral Johns, who as the Royal Navy’s principal personnel officer was responsible for about 39,000 sailors. His speech was titled “Reaping the Rewards of a Gay-Friendly Workplace.”

The current policy was accepted at the lower ranks first, with many senior officers worrying for their troops without a modern acceptance of homosexuality that their personnel had grown up with, one Brigadier resigned.[140] Since the change support at the senior level has grown. General Sir Richard Dannatt, the Chief of the General Staff (head of the Army), told members of the Army-sponsored Fourth Joint Conference on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transexual Matters that homosexuals were welcome to serve in the Army. In a speech to the conference in 2008, the first of its kind by any Army chief, General Sir Richards said that respect for gays, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual officers and soldiers was now "a command responsibility" and was vital for "operational effectiveness".[141]

The British Military immediately recognised civil partnerships and granted gay couples the same rights to allowances and housing as straight couples. The MoD stated "We're pleased personnel registered in a same sex relationship now have equal rights to married couples."[142] The Royal Navy has conducted civil partnership ceremonies on ships and the British Army has held same-sex marriage celebrations in barracks.[143]

On the tenth anniversary of the change of law that permitted homosexuality was celebrated, including in the July 2009 cover story of the Army's in house publication Soldier Magazine, and articles in some national newspapers.[136][144][145]

Current Situation

Since the ban all three Armed Services and the Ministry of Defence Civil Service have joined the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index,[146] an annual audit of LGB practices and lived experience. And by 2014 the Royal Navy, British Army, Royal Air Force and Ministry of Defence had all been a Top 100 LGB employer in at least one year.[147]

All three of the United Kingdom's Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defence Civil Service operate volunteer led LGBT Employee Networks, to provide support to LGBT personnel and LGBT focussed advice to their respective chains of command. Each network has a patron in the very highest echelons of the Armed Forces, the Army LGBT boasting Lieutenant General James Everard[148]

Since March 2014, UK military same-sex couples can get married (as well as UK civilians), under the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. This law does not apply to Northern Ireland only.[149]

United States

A US Navy sailor kissing her fiancé, who is also a member of the Navy, after disembarking at the end of a deployment in December 2011

Homosexuals are allowed to serve openly in the United States military. Military policy and legislation had previously entirely prohibited gay individuals from serving, and subsequently from serving openly, but these prohibitions were ended in September 2011 after the U.S. Congress voted to repeal the policy.

The first time homosexuals were differentiated from non-homosexuals in the military literature was in revised army mobilization regulations in 1942. Additional policy revisions in 1944 and 1947 further codified the ban. Throughout the next few decades, homosexuals were routinely discharged, regardless of whether they had engaged in sexual conduct while serving. In response to the gay rights movements of the 1970s and 1980s, including the famed "Copy" Berg case, the Department of Defense issued a 1982 policy (DOD Directive 1332.14) stating that homosexuality was clearly incompatible with military service. Controversy over this policy created political pressure to amend the policy, with socially liberal efforts seeking a repeal of the ban and socially conservative groups wishing to reinforce it by statute.

A legislative policy was enacted in a 1993 bill signed by President Bill Clinton. The new policy continued the ban under which homosexuals were prohibited from serving in the military and their discharge was required. The main change that the new policy made was to prohibit investigation into a member's sexual orientation without suspicion. The new policy was known as "Don't ask, don't tell" and was seen as a compromise between the two political efforts.

Pressure to overturn the ban continued to build throughout the 1990s and 2000s, as public opposition to gay rights waned. In December 2010, a Democratically controlled House and a Democratically controlled Senate passed and President Barack Obama signed the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 which created a future pathway to allow homosexuals to serve in the military.[150] Under the terms of the bill, the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy remained in place until the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs certified that repeal would not harm military readiness, followed by a 60 days waiting period.[151][152][153] In early 2011, military leaders began issuing training plans for the expected repeal of the ban.[152][154][155] A court order on July 6, 2011, required the Pentagon to immediately suspend the ban, which the government complied with. The legislative repeal of the ban took effect on September 20, 2011.[156][157]

One year after repeal, a study published by the Palm Center found that openly gay service has not resulted in a negative net impact to the U.S. military.[158]

Per the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Windsor, lawful same-sex spouses are afforded the same rights as heterosexual spouses.

Department of Defense regulations that ban transgender persons from US military service was repealed on June 30, 2016.[159]


Homosexuals were prohibited from serving in the Uruguayan armed forces under the 1973–1985 military dictatorship, however this prohibition was lifted in 2009 when a new decree was signed by Defence Minister Jose Bayardi which provided that sexual orientation would no longer be considered a reason to prevent people from entering the armed forces.[160][161]

Countries that disallow homosexuals from serving in the military

Countries with ambiguous policies


The Mexican Armed Forces' policy on sexual orientation is ambiguous, leaving homosexual soldiers in a "legal limbo". Officially, there is no law or policy preventing homosexuals from serving, and applicants are not questioned on the subject. In practice, however, outed homosexual soldiers are subject to severe harassment and are often discharged. One directive, issued in 2003, described actions "en contra de la moral o de las buenas costumbres dentro y fuera del servicio [sic]" ("contrary to morality or good manners on- and off-duty") as serious misconduct warranting disciplinary action. Other references to morality are found throughout military documents, leaving room for interpretation with regards to sexual orientation. Although there is no clear position from current military leadership, several retired generals have agreed that homosexual soldiers were usually removed from service either through an encouraged withdrawal or dishonorable discharge.[165][166]

South Korea

Civil rights for homosexual citizens are guaranteed in South Korea under the Korean Human Rights Committee Law, but in practice homosexuals may still face discrimination during military service, which is mandatory for all male citizens. Conscripts are profiled at the time of enlistment and homosexuals may be categorized as having a "mental handicap" or "personality disorder", which may lead to a dishonourable discharge.

Article 92 of the Military Penal Code categorizes sexual relations between members of the same sex as "sexual harassment", regardless of whether it is consensual. Consensual sex between homosexuals may be regarded as "reciprocal rape", punishable by up to a year's imprisonment for both parties. These laws and practices have faced legal challenges during recent years.[167]

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