An attempt to repeal the law that forbids homosexual staff from serving in the US military fell at the first hurdle last week, a decade after the same legislation was successfully abolished in the UK.
Republican senators rejected attempts to open a debate on a bill which could have allowed the reversal of the so-called "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy, which prohibits openly gay personnel in the US armed forces.
But while deliberation in American political circles continues, the British Army’s diversity unit confirmed it had been advising its military counterparts across the Atlantic on integrating such an equality policy and sharing the successes of the repeal in the UK.
Colonel Mark Abraham told PM that fears surrounding the removal of the exclusion policy had been unfounded, and the overnight lifting of the ban in January 2000 had resulted in “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,” explained Abraham, head of employment, equality and diversity for the British Army.
“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.”
He continued: “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.”
Prior to 2000, armed forces personnel suspected of being homosexual were put under investigation. If found to be gay or lesbian they were discharged from the service – and a “significant number” were discharged in the years leading up to the legislative repeal, said Abraham.
He added that overturning the restriction had actually increased workforce productivity.
“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,” said Abraham. “That percentage of time can now be devoted to work and their home life, so actually they are more effective than they were before.”
David Shields, director of Workplace Programmes at campaign group Stonewall, added: “A diverse and inclusive workforce makes any organisation perform effectively, as people perform better when they can be themselves. All the armed forces are active members of Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme and have senior champions of gay equality.”