“You’re alright. Don’t change:” An IDF soldier on being out, gay, and religious

To mark Pride Week in Israel, the Israel Defense Forces website interviewed Cpl. Yehonatan, a religious gay man who serves in the foreign relations department as part of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Unit.

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As a soldier who is both religious and proudly gay, Cpl. Yehonatan isn’t new to fielding questions on the subject. In order to dispel the stigma and open a dialogue, he’s given lectures on every base he’s been stationed at. We sat with him at his base, the Coordination and Liaison Administration to the Gaza strip, and spoke about his experiences.

Since you’ve come out in the army, how do you deal with people who are less familiar or less understanding of the LGBT community?

The army has been very accommodating, and everyone from my coworkers to my high-ranking officers support me. The army takes in everybody and has soldiers from all over. This can sometimes be challenging, but I think the main point is that you have to come at that with patience, and realize that not everybody comes from the same background. Not everybody holds the same beliefs, and that’s fine. I try to understand that and answer questions when I can. It’s important to be honest with yourself and not apologize for who you are.

How did you start giving these talks?

When I was in basic training, we were all asked to prepare a 10-minute speech about something important to us. I sat down with my commander and told her, “so, I want to talk about something, but it’ll be longer than ten minutes.” I told her about being a part of the LGBT community and my experiences as a gay man in Israel. I told her about my idea for the speech and she said “I love it! Let’s do it!” That was the first time I gave my talk.

When I was in the course for my job, a lot of rumors went around, and some soldiers were being a little childish about it. I asked myself, what can I do about this? I can complain, I can be ask to be placed in the next course, or I can address the issue and open a dialogue. I gave the talk again, and it cleared up a lot of misunderstandings and fears that some of the other soldiers had. I also spoke again on my current base, and we’re working on getting me to speak at others so that we can open the dialogue further.

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