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World military experts to discuss gays serving in militaries

SANTA BARBARA _ Plans to convene a Washington, D.C., summit of officials and experts from military forces that allow gay men and lesbians to serve openly, have been announced by the Palm Center.

British and Israeli Defense Force experts will join NATO-member militaries at the summit, which is being planned for early spring.

"As military and political leaders anticipate the end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the lessons from the 25 foreign forces that allow open gay service are instructive," said Dr. Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a think tank at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Belkin cited three questions that generally dominate the comparison:

Did the decision to allow open gay service undermine military readiness?

How was implementation managed?

To what extent can lessons from abroad help U.S. officials plan for an inclusive policy?

During last week's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, asked if any NATO partners had reported difficulties since their implementation of open service. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he had spoken to many NATO allies and they reported "no impact" on military performance.

In 1993, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) submitted a report to Congress regarding gays and lesbians in foreign militaries. It assessed the impact of open service on military readiness, finding that, "Military officials in all four countries said that the presence of homosexuals in the military is not an issue and has not created problems in the functioning of military units."

A 1993 report by the RAND Corp. reached a similar conclusion.

Palm Center scholars have published several journal articles and book chapters on gays and lesbians in the Israeli, British, Canadian and Australian armed forces. This is the second conference at the Palm Center to include officials and experts from a number of foreign militaries that allow gay men and lesbians to serve openly; the first was in 2000.

In addition to hosting the conference, the Palm Center also plans on releasing a 150-page study on the status of gays and lesbians in foreign military forces around the world. The study will include the first-ever in-depth analysis of gays and lesbians in the South African Defense Force, which dropped its ban in 1998.