To Ask or Not to Ask: Foreign Military Allies to Discuss Gay Service

While the U.S. Congress considers repealing the ban on lesbians and gays in the military, 25 of our nation’s allies ( already allow open gay military service. Today, Wednesday, May 19, during a public forum at the Brookings Institution, military commanders and scholars from Australia, Canada, Israel, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom are discussing their experiences with the service of gays in their militaries. Co-sponsored by the Palm Center, Lessons Learned from the Service of Gays and Lesbians in Allied Militaries ( will evaluate for media, policymakers and military leaders the effects of gay military service on policy, unit cohesion, military readiness and morale.

“The U.S. has always applied the lessons of our military allies, and it should be no different in this matter,” said Peter Singer, Director of Brookings Institution’s 21st Century Defense Initiative. “This conference is a tremendous opportunity for Congressional and DoD policy makers to review our allies’ experiences and develop smart solutions for how to best mitigate any impacts and manage implementation should ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ be over turned. In short, this conference is part of doing it ‘smart, and not stupid,’ as Secretary Gates has emphasized.”

“Defense Secretary Gates has stated repeatedly that the U.S. military doesn’t know how to implement policy transition, and that implementation should go slowly,” said Aaron Belkin, Director of the Palm Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “Our conference will feature top experts on implementation discussing what works and what doesn’t, and identifying pros and cons of a gradual approach.”

Recent comments by U.S. generals, including retired Gen. John Sheehan (, who falsely linked the inclusive policies of the Dutch military to the tragic Srebrenica massacre, have called gay military service into question. At the same time, more than 100 retired U.S. generals and admirals publicly endorse repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ However, it is not a military decision to repeal the gay ban, rather the decision of the civilian leaders in Congress. The Palm Center-Brookings event will provide lawmakers and other decision makers the opportunity to hear directly from leaders in the Dutch military, as well as other allied militaries about the real impact of gay military service.

For more information about “Lessons Learned from the Service of Gays and Lesbians in Allied Militaries,” visit:

The Palm Center is a think tank at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Since 1998, the Center has been a leader in commissioning and disseminating research in the areas of gender, sexuality, and the military. For more information visit:

The 21st Century Defense Initiative at Brookings produces cutting-edge research, analysis, and outreach that address some of the most critical issues facing leaders shaping defense policy in the coming century. The initiative focuses on three core issues: the future of war, the future of U.S. defense needs and priorities, and the future of the U.S. defense system. For more information visit:

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