Meetings of soldiers from the periphery with LGBT organizations, cross-unit discussions with LGBTQ soldiers and a support group for LGBTQ standing army soldiers and mandatory service soldiers–this is how the Israeli Air Force leads its openness to the LGBT community. “There are quite a few pilots who came out of the closet, it’s becoming a non-issue,” Air Force representatives say.
Capt. Adir Gabbai, a gay air force officer, along with his husband, Dean.
The Israeli Air Force has turned its attention to its LGBT members. In recent years, the IDF has been considered one of the liberal armies in the Western world in its attitude toward LGBTQ soldiers, and the Air Force has taken a number of steps forward with unique initiatives.
In recent weeks, the head of the Personnel Directorate, Brigadier General Natan Israeli, met with LGBT soldiers from the aerial arm of the Israeli army. He listened to their needs in order to further improve the unique response that the Air Force gives to its soldiers who belong to the LGBTQ community. Some of the General’s conclusions from the meeting may soon be implemented in all of the Air Force’s systems.
Even before the meeting with Gen. Israeli, the IAF began encouraging gay, lesbian, and transgender soldiers to take part in an informal support group established within the force’s social department, which includes regular soldiers and standing army soldiers. The group has already held four meetings at the IAF headquarters in Tel Aviv.
Captain Ofer Erez, the first openly trans* officer in the Israeli Army and now the Executive Director of the Jerusalem Open House clarifies that, “these groups are not support groups, but social groups. They were established as an independent initiative of officers from the LGBT community that received support from the Command, which cooperated and encouraged its activities.”
A source explained the Air Force’s openness to its LGBT soldiers to Ynet: “The Air Force leads the IDF in many areas, including in social issues, such as accepting the other, promoting female officers and female air combats, observance of the pious way of life of the ultra-Orthodox soldiers inside the bases, while encouraging and developing them towards citizenship, etc. You can do everything in an informed and thoughtful way without stepping on one other, and thus not losing any quality soldier just because of his or her unique background.”
“We know how to provide solutions, ease and consideration for transgender people serving in the air forces, without harming the other soldiers or damaging tasks completion,” the source added. “There are quite a few pilots, even in combat, who came out of the closet without difficulty, and on the face of it, it became a ‘non-issue’ and obvious, but there is still so much to improve in the daily attitude towards the LGBT soldiers. That’s why we keep our eyes and mind open and want to know what we are less good at, in order to correct it. Orthodox people, homosexuals and transgender people can serve in the same base, side by side, each on their own terms, and succeed.”
A year ago, in a declaration of support for its LGBT soldiers, the Air Force published in its official Twitter account a picture of an officer serving in the force and his partner, shortly after they married. “Captain Adir Gabay and Dean got to know each other long before they went on their first date, they served in the same unit in the Air Force. It’s been eight years since then, and now they’re newlyweds. For them, the Air Force family will always be ‘the place where I met my family.”
Captain Ofer Erez reflects that “the statements made by senior officers in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), including the Air Force, express the understanding that a strong military is a diverse and inclusive military. And that this is the IDF’s moral commitment to the Israeli society.”
However, there is still progress that needs to happen. Erez explains that “we continue to receive calls from soldiers, including from the Air Force, who report a violent atmosphere towards LGBT people, toward the trans* community, especially in closed bases.”
Erez reminds us that while “the directives from the high command are a step in the right direction, an active approach needs to be played in the units in order to educate and create change.”