"Words like torches in a sea of fog"

Written by Stefano Cisternino

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17 May 2021

Sexual orientation discrimination among US LGBTQ+ military personnel

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In the US military, two policies have been progressively introduced aimed at reducing forms of sexually oriented discrimination (including homophobia, transphobia and biphobia).

For example, the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue’ (DADT) policy (1993), which prohibited lesbians, gays and bisexuals from revealing their sexual orientation during their military service.

Secondly, the Transgender policy which banned transgender individuals from serving, discharging any transgender individuals who disclosed their identity. These individuals were from receiving trans-specific medical care within military-related health services.

These two policies combined have contributed to an anti-LGBTQ+ environment throughout the military. Thereby the likelihood of victimisation based on sexual and gender orientation has increased.

In addition to an anti-LGBTQ+ environment, the fear of being discharged under these two policies complicated researcher’s ability to assess the experiences of LGBTQ+ military personnel. This means there is a limited amount of research on this discrimination. Gurung et al. point out that this limitation has led to almost complete impunity and an increase in sexual orientation discrimination and military sexual trauma – especially sexual harassment and sexual assault. 

The data presented by the scholars show that the problem is widespread inside and outside the US military, but is also prevalent for female LGBTQ+ members.

In fact, Gurung et al. specify that in the US military, women experience significantly higher rates of sexual harassment than men, including sexual comments to unwanted attention and inappropriate touching. This means lesbian and bisexual women experience these forms of harassment far ore than gay and bisexual men.

The scholars conclude that the most important factor in eradicating this discriminatory system is to initiate a cultural change that brings healthcare providers into the picture.

Due to the impact of oppresive hypermasculinity, gender discrimination, and homophobia within the army, healthcare providers have had to overcome numerous obstacles to achieve honest communication with LGTBQ+ soldiers. This then hinders initiating change. As this relationship is also needed to gain a clear understanding of the extent of the problem.

Until change happens,  LGBTQ+ employees facing discrimination have two choices. The first is to remain employed and silently suffer verbal, physical and psychological abuse. And the second is to resign.

Therefore, it is critical to connect health professionals with these LGBTQ+ employees in a meaningful way. This can bring to light a systemic problem in the army, which then leads to building real gender inclusion.


Read Gurung, Ventuneac, Rendina and Savarese’s (2018) full paper.

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