Military organizations represent a unique environment that differs from other business and social organizations. The military deals with a small portion of the population, and establishes its norms and traditions dominated at work. Thus, it is not an ideal type of organization free from dissemination and inequalities at work. Discrimination against gays and lesbians in the military is unlawful; it violates human rights and the Constitution. The critical point is that gay men and lesbians serving in the military but keeps their sexual orientation a secret.
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In general, discrimination is unlawful and prohibited by the Constitution but equal treatment is not always obvious. However, unlike racism and sexism in organizations, relatively little attention has been paid to heterosexism, or the antigay attitudes, prejudice, and discrimination encountered by gay men and lesbians in the workplace. Gay and lesbian employees in the military face unique challenges that have no real parallel with other minority groups. “Officially the federal stance was that integration (of blacks, females, and most recently homosexuals) would damage morale, discipline, and good order” (Bowling et al, p. 412).
In contort to other workplaces, discrimination against gay and lesbian employees in the military, or even those who appear to be gay or lesbian, is legal in the United States. The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy introduced by President Clinton in November 1993 prohibited and limited gays and lesbians’ rights. In the military, heterosexuals avoid associating with gay and lesbian coworkers because they fear that they will be perceived as being gay if they simply extend the “courtesy” of socializing with gay colleagues. This outcome of stigma does not occur based on gender and rarely based on race. In summary, these processes create a unique sense of isolation among gay and lesbian employees (Brouwer, p. 411).
The main problem with the current policy is that gay men and lesbian have successfully served in the military have not ‘threatened’ national defense. For instance, historical facts suggest that:
Many homosexuals have served in the military and an influx often occurs during wartime mobilization, such as World War II. Often they served “with distinction and without difficulty.”8 Before World War I, the US military had no official legal restrictions on homosexuality—commanders were responsible for enforcing their personal view on the issue” (Bowling et al, p. 412).
This information shows that the problem of gay men and lesbian in the military is a part of politics which supports discrimination and inequalities.
Today, discrimination against gays and lesbians in the military is focused on sexual difference rather than sexual equality by definition places no pressure on sexual identity. It takes sexual identity as a given and uses it to place pressure on human value. Presumably, that is part of its appeal, for the approach seems to permit reconciliation of sexual justice with respect for and pride in sexual identity (Davis, p. 25). The military should not include among the values to which our society responds those that are insensitive to what women (or men) have to offer, or that are more sensitive to what men have to offer than to what women have to offer (or vice versa). And yet, despite its attempt to show respect for sexual identity, concerns about this approach remain, which, like those expressed in the previous section, stem from its comparative character (Herek, p. 544). The main cause of dissemination is a contradiction between an ideal soldier and a military man and a typical stereotype of gays.
Heterosexual gender norms are played out within the context of the military’s definition of a “good soldier” as someone with stereotypical male qualities (aggressive, violent, unemotional) which are defined as the opposite of stereotypical female qualities (nurturant, sympathetic, relational.” (Bowling et al 414).
Most prejudiced reactions to lesbians and gays are best conceived of as just that—prejudice—rather than phobias. A more appropriate term to describe negative attitudes toward gays and lesbians is heterosexism. The invisibility of sexual orientation sets gay men and lesbians apart from most other marginalized groups (Herek, p. 545). For the most part, the sexual orientation of gay and lesbian employees becomes visible only when they communicate it. This is an ongoing process, and the decision to disclose sexual orientation must be made with every new person a gay man or lesbian meets (Estes 21). “Instead of locking homosexuals in the brig for years or even decades–deemed not only inhumane, but also costly and inefficient during World War II–the military simply discharged them from the service” (Estes, p. 21). Consequently, gay and lesbian employees face an ongoing and often challenging process of negotiating their invisible identity in the workplace. Most gay and lesbian employees report that they limit the disclosure of their sexual identity to a select group of trustworthy coworkers (Herek, p. 545).
Gay men and lesbians have faced verbal abuse or threats, and more than one in five have been physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation. Gays and lesbians are more likely to be victims of hate crimes in the United States than are members of many other social groups associated with homosexuals, particularly gay men, is related to the AIDS epidemic: about 40% of the American population holds the outdated belief that AIDS is spread primarily through homosexual behavior (Brouwer, p. 420). Studies of prejudice and discrimination toward gay men and lesbians in countries other than the United States have produced similar findings. The stereotypes of homosexuals as dangerous, perverted, and child molesters, coupled with the fear of AIDS, are the main factors of discrimination (Brouwer, pp. 420-421).
One reason for this continued discrimination is its legality. Internationally, gay men and lesbians are not protected by the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United States lacks federal legislation prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination. The absence of legislation prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace is an important antecedent of discrimination (Bowling et al, pp. 432-433). A recent study found that gay and lesbian employees in organizations covered by protective legislation reported significantly less heterosexism in the workplace than did employees in organizations not covered by protective legislation. Military and political leaders forget that equality at its core does not merely hold that one should treat similar cases similarly, that people should have equal access to whatever (other) rights there are. This merely formal principle is a component of procedural justice, but it does not exhaust or even capture the core of equality” (Mohr, p. 30). In this case, gays and lesbians should have free access to military service and should be protected by laws and the Constitution (Davis, p. 26).
Discrimination creates difficulties for gay and lesbian employees in the military because they get little support in managing their sexual identities, and the coming out process is usually a difficult and isolating experience. Because families of lesbians and gay men are typically heterosexual, they often cannot provide adult gay children with role models or coping mechanisms to address heterosexism (Bowling et al, p. 433). Similarly, gay and lesbian employees who hide their sexual identity may need to keep a social distance that precludes the development of supportive work relationships. Finally, unlike that of other racial and ethnic groups, gay history is rarely taught in school and is not passed on through family traditions, thus limiting the sense of gay pride and community (Estes, p. 21). “The “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue” policy, which is designed to safeguard the homosexual community, also hides them so heterosexuals do not necessarily know if or when they are interacting with a homosexual” (Bowling, p. 434). Consequently, many lesbian and gay employees face isolation and limited support for their sexual identity both in and out of the workplace. Compounding the lack of support for gays’ and lesbians’ sexual identities are the negative reactions they may receive from coworkers (Davis, p. 27).
Discrimination in the military prompts heterosexuals to engage in a variety of negative behaviors toward lesbians and gay men in the workplace. At best, these behaviors can be described as “avoidance”; at worst, they represent overt and aggressive forms of discrimination and physical harassment. Other studies indicate that individuals who hold heterosexist beliefs help lesbians and gay men far less than do those without this prejudice. Many heterosexuals recognize that overt discrimination is unacceptable or illegal in some locales, more subtle forms of interpersonal discrimination emerge (Davis, p. 28). While job applicants who posed as lesbians and gay men did not face overt workplace discrimination, they still were subject to interpersonal biases that resulted in shorter job interviews, less eye contact, and more negative and truncated communication interactions. This suggests that even in the presence of formal organizational policies
Prejudiced heterosexuals can make work-life difficult to intolerable for lesbian and gay colleagues. At best, gay and lesbian workers are avoided; at worst, they face overt job discrimination or even physical assault. First, heterosexism thwarts career progression for many lesbians and gay men. For example, lesbians are limited in their job and career choices trying to avoid heterosexist work environments. Gay male workers have been found to earn significantly less compensation than their heterosexual counterparts, although this finding was not replicated for lesbians (Brouwer, p. 426). Workplace heterosexism is associated with fewer promotions over 10 years. In this investigation, reports of heterosexism also had a negative relationship with job satisfaction, organizational commitment, career commitment, organization-based self-esteem, and satisfaction with opportunities for promotion, and a positive relationship with intentions to leave the job. Moreover, repeated discriminatory treatment takes its toll on lesbian and gay workers. The health hazards associated with this stress include drug and alcohol abuse, mental health problems, and diminished physical health and well-being. Critics suggest that: ‘lifting the ban would eradicate the insidious acts of baiting and harassment and bring the military more properly in line with the anti-discrimination principles of civil society” (Brouwer, p. 418).
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A key factor in reducing heterosexism in the workplace is the presence of “gay-friendly” organizational policies and practices. These range from policies that prohibit sexual orientation discrimination to practices that create a more inclusive workplace climate. Companies that lack protective policies and practices may foster a climate of heterosexism in the workplace. Gay and lesbian employees were less likely to report sexual orientation discrimination in organizations that (a) had written policies forbidding it, (b) included sexual orientation discrimination in their definition of diversity, or (c) offered same-sex domestic partner benefits (Brouwer, p. 424). This practice reflects a climate that is not only inclusive of gay employees but also promotes and reflects a high comfort level in social interactions with them. Work climate is a key predictor of workplace heterosexism because heterosexism is positively related to perceptions that the employer lacks anti-discrimination policies, does not take such policies seriously, and will permit the open expression of heterosexist attitudes in the workplace. The leadership is crucial because “integration of declared gay men and women into the military depends on leadership more than anything else” (Davis, p. 28).
In sum, the presence of protective legislation and gay coworkers will be significantly related to reduced reports of discrimination; the overriding variable affecting reported discrimination in the presence of gay-friendly organizational policies and practices. A particularly interesting finding is that of all the gay-friendly practices and policies, inviting same-sex partners to the military to have the strongest relationship to reduced reports of workplace discrimination. There is no evidence that gays and lesbians employees threaten the military and its main functions. On the contrary, historical data suggests that gays and lesbians soldiers show the same courage and commitment as heterosexual soldiers. So, there is a need to change current legislation and protect gays and lesbians employees from unlawful harassment and discrimination in the military.
- Bowling, K.L., Firestone, J.M., Harris, R.J. Analyzing Questions That Cannot Be Asked of Respondents Who Cannot Respond. Armed Forces 31, 2005, pp. 411–437.
- Brouwer, D.C. Corps/Corpse: The U.S. Military and Homosexuality. Western Journal of Communication 68 (2004), 411-430
- Davis, Ch. Lifting the Gay Ban. Society, 1993, pp. 24-28.
- Estes, S. Title:Ask and tell: gay veterans, identity, and oral history on a civil rights frontier. The Oral History Review 32, 2005, p. 21-27.
- Herek, G.M. Sexual Orientation and Military Service, American Psychologist, 1993, pp. 538- 549.
- Mohr, R.D. Equal Dignity Under the Law, The Gay & Lesbian Review / WORLDWIDE, 2004, pp. 30-35.