Gays in the US military follow Dutch lead – ‘Proud to Serve’ Published on : 21 September 2011 – 8:24pm | By Michel Walraven (clipart )

25 Apr

It’s okay to be sexually ‘different’ in the US armed forces. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender service personnel have the same legal rights as their heterosexual colleagues. On Tuesday 20 September, President Barack Obama ended the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy introduced by Bill Clinton in 1993. This prohibited military personnel from discriminating against their homosexual colleagues, but also barred gay servicemen and women from being open about their sexual orientation.

The Dutch Homosexuality & the Armed Forces Foundation (SHK) has been advising the US Pentagon on how to implement the new policy. Evidently the US military sets some store by Dutch experience; The Hague stopped barring gays from the armed forces way back in 1974.

Dutch openness
Major Peter Kees Hamstra of the SHK welcomes the new US policy. He says homosexuals are generally willing, at least in the Netherlands, to consider a career in the armed forces. Major Hamstra says that one of the most important things is to show that management fully backs this openness.

“Openness about sexual preferences is not necessarily going to make things easy right away, but in the long run it will make their acceptance a lot easier. And yes, there will be incidents during the early period of change, but eventually everybody will get used to the fact that people are open about their sexuality.”

Sexual revolution
In 1974, in the wake of the 1960s sexual revolution, the Dutch defence ministry decided to lift the ban on gays in the military. This made the Dutch armed forces the first in the world to accept openly homosexual personnel. According to Major Hamstra, the percentages of open gays and those ‘in the closet’ in the military are roughly the same as in the civilian world.

“Generally, it’s pretty safe to be gay in our armed forces. There’s almost no open discrimination. Those guilty of it can easily be sacked.”

However there are some problems:


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“Combat units are usually made up of young straight white males. Studies show that within these groups acceptance of homosexuality is still an issue. And when it comes to transgender people, it’s a totally different story. This group seems to find it much harder to be accepted in any area of life.


Many people don’t realise that as much as 0.5 percent of the population has some transgender tendencies. We are currently working on setting guidelines for military personnel who are going through sexual transition. Not only social guidelines need to be set, but also medical and administrative ones.”

Proud 2 Serve
Even though much has been achieved in the Dutch armed forces, there are still reports of sexually ‘different’ military personnel suffering harassment. This summer, however, another milestone was reached. The defence ministry had its own boat in Amsterdam’s Gay Pride Canal Parade – the motto of the men and women from the Dutch military on board was ‘Proud 2 Serve’.




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