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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 December, 2003, 15:52 GMT
Gay US generals speak out
Gay parade
The issue of gays in the military is highly divisive across the US
Three retired high-ranking US military personnel have publicly declared themselves as gay in protest at the problems facing homosexuals in the armed forces.

Since 1993, and the introduction of the "don't ask, don't tell" law - which permitted homosexuals to serve as long as they kept their sexual orientation to themselves - nearly 10,000 gays have been "separated" or discharged from the US armed services.

The Department of Defense says the law is necessary as "homosexual conduct" can undermine the performance of the army.

But Virgil Richard, a US Army Brigadier General, Alan Steinman, a Rear Admiral in the US Coast Guard and Brigadier General Keith Kerr, the highest-ranking military officers to acknowledge that they are gay, say the policy is a misguided one.

They argue that forcing gays to keep their sexuality a secret has itself a negative impact on military performance, and note that Britain's decision to include gays and lesbians in the army has not had any discernible impact on the forces effectiveness in the battlefield.


The issue of gays in the military is highly divisive across the US, and even the modification of the law to "don't ask, don't tell" drew heavy fire.

Because of these policies and because of the need to be secret, I was denied the opportunity to share my life with a loved one and to have a family
Dr Alan Steinman

Under "don't ask, don't tell", homosexual behaviour is deemed a violation of military law - although being homosexual is not.

"In passing that law, Congress expressed concern about risks to morale, good order and discipline, and unit readiness," Department of Defence officials said in a statement to the BBC.

Officials also stressed that the department was "working tirelessly to administer that law in a manner that is both fair and consistent."

However, General Richard said that while the argument about unit performance was often used, it was wrong.

"They say that unit cohesion is adversely affected by having gays serve in the military - I would contend that it's adversely affected because if you put out "don't ask don't tell," you put out a standard that makes everyone wonder about the other person's sexuality," he told BBC World Service's Outlook programme.

"I think in today's environment that sometimes becomes one of the first things people think about when they become acquainted with somebody else, is "what is their sexuality?"

"That creates tension, and it certainly doesn't contribute to unity."

And Dr Steinman drew a comparison with the UK's armed forces, which had a ban on gays serving lifted in 1999 after the European Court of Human Rights ruled it was unlawful.

"Your armed forces have demonstrated that you can have openly gay members of the armed forces and not have a diminution in military combat effectiveness," he said.

"In the UK you removed your ban on gays and lesbians serving and it obviously has not been a problem - here we are fighting side by side together in Iraq."

'Big sacrifice'

Dr Steinman admitted he was nervous about openly declaring he was gay, but said he felt it was an important action to take.

Gay military personnel who won right to serve in UK armed forces
The UK was forced to lift its ban on gays by the European Court of Human Rights
"We decided to step forward and talk about our own lives and use ourselves as an example," he said.

"That hopefully would encourage other gay and lesbian veterans to step forward and demonstrate to the American public - and to the administration - how many of us are working in the military, doing our patriotic duty to serve their country."

Neither Dr Steinman or General Richard fully realised they were gay when they joined up, and both said they had "struggled emotionally" as a result.

"The law that was passed addressing "don't ask, don't tell" requires us to serve in silence and celibacy," Dr Steinman said.

"That's a very difficult thing to do. It puts a severe constraint on your life.

"For me, I didn't really have a personal life. Because of these policies and because of the need to be secret, I was denied the opportunity to share my life with a loved one and to have a family, or to do all the things that heterosexual Americans take for granted.

"I think that's a pretty big sacrifice to make for the opportunity to serve one's country."

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