Gay soldiers in Asia's armed forces | Connect Asia

Gay soldiers in Asia's armed forces

Gay soldiers in Asia's armed forces

Updated 18 January 2012, 17:00 AEDT

The top US commander says repealing a ban on gays in the military will make the armed forces stronger.

Admiral Mike Mullen says the troops are ready for the change, urging Congress to scrap the "Dont Ask, Dont Tell" policy. He has the backing of the Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who says a Pentagon study found that the change would cause no major problems for the military, even at a time of war. Here in Australia, openly-gay men and women have been allowed to serve since 1992, while in Asia, Taiwan led the way in Asia in 2002, when it lifted a ban on conscripting gays. The Philippines lifted its ban last year.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Christopher Neff, deputy director Palm Center research institute, University of California

LAM: Christopher, first of all, tell us what you know about serving gays in the armed forces of Asian countries. Is Taiwan or rather, are Taiwan and the Philippines the only countries with openly gay military personnel?

NEFF: The Defence Department working group report which was just released on Tuesday here, showed as well the republic of Korea, that South Korea was among the nations that also allowed openly gay service, and this is the Defence Department's report on foreign military that it used to provide input to members of Congress about the way forward for the US.

LAM: What about Japan? I understand Japan has no rules applying to gay personnel, is that right?

NEFF: Japan and Singapore also fell into sort of an indeterminate or undetermined category for the Defence Department's review and I think they are seeking further clarification there.

LAM: And Christopher, tell us about the American experience. This issue has been around for sometime now. Do you think it reflects wider community attitudes towards gay men and women?

NEFF: I think we're seeing a turning of the tide here in the States. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today in the hearing that I was in, that it would make the US military better, to allow openly gay and lesbian service members. That was the same statement that was echoed by generals in Australia, in Britain, in Canada and in other countries when they were at a hearing here in Washington in May. And I think that the US is trying to catch up to Asian nations and Australia, New Zealand, the British and Canadians. Almost every other western industrialised nation in the world has lifted its ban on gay service, except for the United States.

LAM: And Christopher, do you think Admiral Mike Mullen got it right when he said that the majority of US troops do not have a problem serving with fellow personnel who are gay?

NEFF: He did get that right. The survey that they just did of which 115,000 service members responded, showed that of the 70 percent of service members who knew or suspected that they knew someone who was gay in their unit, 92 per cent of those said that serving with gays or lesbians did not hurt unit cohesion. And that is a tremendous number - 92 percent is a staggeringly high number for any survey. And that was the reported data back regarding openly gay service.

LAM: And in the American context, do you think masculine gay men and feminine gay women are better accepted in the military than those who don't necessarily follow the conservative norms of gender?

NEFF: I do think that is true. It is a hypo-masculine culture. Today, at the hearing in the Senate, one of the senators read a statement from a comment of a straight Special Operations person who said we have a big giant gay guy in our group, in our unit. He kills guys just like we do and we don't have a problem with him being gay. That is emblematic of a more hyper-masculine culture and their job is to fight and win wars. So you don't necessarily need to be masculine to do that, but that is the current culture.

LAM: May we assume then that there would be no openly gay soldiers, or indeed, that their acceptance would be far more difficult to achieve, without gay rights being enshrined in law in the particular country?

NEFF: I think it is, I think the example in England was brought through the European Court of Human Rights on the basis of discrimination against gay and lesbian service members, on the basis of their sexual orientation. So in nations where you've got these protections, this does follow. The US has only just recently passed its first ever federal law regarding hate crimes to protect gay and lesbian citizens. So we are behind most countries including Asia.

LAM: And finally Christopher, has the Palm Centre done any work on which Asian countries are leaning closer towards accepting gays?

NEFF: It's a good question. I can tell you the most recent data is with the Defence Department's report just came out. And I think our goal now is to answer the questions regarding forces in Japan and forces in Singapore, and try to resolve those questions. I think its the grey area, that you want to minimise, regarding policies that militaries have, regarding gay troops.

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