Israeli Military One of the World’s Most LGBT Friendly, Report Says

In the first index to rank countries by the inclusion of gay and lesbian service members, Israel breaks the top ten, far ahead of the United States.

In the first international index to rank countries based on the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service members in the armed forces, Israel finds itself perched close to the top. The LGBT Military Index, which surveys the inclusion practices of over 100 countries, was published Thursday by The Hague Center for Strategic Studies, an independent think tank in the Netherlands that conducts research on international security and defense.

On a 100-point scale based on a number of policies and practices, the Israeli Defense Forces earned 92 points, coming in at number eight on the list. New Zealand took the top spot with a perfect score, followed by the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Australia, Denmark, Belgium and then Israel. France and Spain rounded out the Top 10. The United States ranked 40th with a score of 72.8, coming in behind such countries as Cuba and Estonia.

“One of the things we took into account was leadership,” Joshua Polchar, an analyst with HCSS wrote to Haaretz in an email. “The support of leadership is of great importance to LGBT inclusion. The IDF's decision to photograph two men holding hands for its Facebook page has great symbolic value.”

Arab and African countries make up much of the index’s lowest rankings, with Nigeria coming in at the bottom, joined by Iran, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Saudi Arabia.

The index examined 19 indicators relating to LGBT participation to arrive at its rankings. The index draws primarily on military policy though it also considers broader governmental policies, such as recognition of same-sex marriage, since most militaries defer to state policy. (Israel recognizes same-sex marriages performed abroad.)

Other indicators include the presence of anti-discrimination policies regarding sexual orientation and gender identity; the representation of the armed forces at LGBT Pride events; whether the military officially supports a Joint Statement of the United Nations Human Rights Council on the rights of LGBT persons; and whether a public official has incited anti-LGBT hatred.

The IDF has been at the forefront of LGBT inclusion for decades, allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to serve openly since 1993, just when the United States enacted its infamous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Polchar suggested that in many ways, the Israeli military has been more inclusive than society at large.

“The military in Israel is in the vanguard of LGBT inclusion when compared to a relatively conservative civilian society,” he said. “The IDF's proactive approach to inclusion could make it a role model for the rest of Israel.”