Orders do not create equality

The secret to equality lies in the understanding that the proud struggle is actually conducted in two parallel arenas: social policy and social norms.

July 6, 2019 18:44
3 minute read.
Israel Pride Parade

Israel Pride Parade. (photo credit: MARK NEYMAN / GPO)

‘Recognizing that homosexuals are entitled to serve in the military as are others, the IDF enables those who are inclined to serve, provided they are eligible for security service according to the criteria in force for all candidates for security service.” This order, which was published 26 years ago, on June 18, 1993, ended the official discrimination of the Israel Defense Forces against the gay community in its ranks.

Since then, the IDF has not stopped advancing and promoting the integration of the gay community in its lines: in 2012, ahead of the gay pride events, the IDF published on Facebook a picture of a gay soldier couple. Two years later, a group of Dutch researchers ranked the IDF ninth in the world in its tolerance towards homosexuality. Since 2018, a gay man sits in the General Staff Forum – the chief military advocate-general of the Israel Defense Forces, Sharon Afek. The IDF has come a long way in the last 30 years, and as far as the official policy, there is no doubt that today the IDF is one of the most egalitarian armies in the world toward LGBT. Moreover, Israel is the only Middle Eastern country to accept LGBT service members. It is hard to believe that until three decades ago, the IDF’s official policy was to disqualify LGBT from service or to prevent the promotion of LGBT officers, merely because of their affiliation to the gay community.

Let’s not be confused, even if the policy is satisfactory, its implementation in day-to-day life still requires a lot of work, and today’s life as a soldier is still far from easy. In the latest report by the Nir Katz Reporting Center, of the Association for the LGBT in Israel, dozens of complaints by male and female soldiers have been submitted, reporting expressions of hatred by military officials: a commander who ridiculed a gay soldier, a gay soldier who was harassed by his peer soldier in the unit, humiliations and more.

If orders and commands do not create equality, is the key to equality lies in education, public relations and social acceptance? Examining the civilian life presents an opposite picture: social norms are advancing constantly, parades and marches are increasing and growing from year to year, the Justice Minister is a gay man and a majority of the public supports equality for the LGBT community. More and more proud families come into the light, gay artists are less and less afraid to emerge from the closet and the LGBT community’s visibility at its peak. But despite all that, the public policy relating to the LGBT community is stuck far behind. Gay couples are still denied from marrying, establish families, register as parents as heterosexual couples, and be equal in the eyes of the law.

The secret to equality lies in the understanding that the proud struggle is actually conducted in two parallel arenas: social policy and social norms. The confusion between the two is perfectly understandable since public policy often creates social norms. For example, the Equal Employment Opportunities Law, which was enacted in the 1990s. In other cases, social norms often promote policies, for example in the case of a Supreme Court ruling to approve gay marriages.

Our obligation as a society is to maintain that balance and remember that the way to create equal rights is they must pass through both. Should the IDF learn something from civil society, and the Knesset should learn something from the IDF’s policy, we can all narrow the gap in which the gay community is falling meanwhile.

The writer is a public policy expert for the LGBT community.

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