Gay IDF officer Omer Nahmany, one of the leaders of the fight for LGBT equality in the Israeli Defense Forces, writes a special column for Israel’s Memorial Day which takes place tomorrow (Wednesday): “You must not ignore it, gay people also die in the wars of Israel and in terror attacks.”
My name is Omer Nachmani, I’m 26 years old, a reserve officer in the artillery force. When I was 19, during a service year in boarding school in Be’er Sheva and after years of suffering, I realized that I couldn’t keep the big secret of my sexual identity inside and decided to come out. Like every other coming out, the process was long and complicated, but fortunately I received tremendous support from my immediate surroundings and never felt I was different because I’m gay.
When the moment came to enlist, I chose to fight to raise my profile and enlist for combat service in the artillery. I decided that entering the army was not going to be what brought me back to the closet and I wasn’t going to live another minute by lying or in denial about who I am, even in the army. I began as a private and was promoted as an openly gay officer in combat, and the truth? It didn’t affect my service one bit. The army is a great organization that manages to hold in it so many different people of our society, no matter their origin or sexual orientation. When I was with my soldiers in the field nothing was different: We wear the same uniform, we eat the same rations and all of us feel the discomfort of sleeping in a tent at night.
My service as an openly gay officer brought me to meet with dozens of soldiers who were debating whether they could come out in the army. The prejudice and fear about being able to deal with the “common shower at the end of the day,” bring many soldiers to ponder whether they can serve in a combat unit at all. Happily, I found myself time after time convincing the soldiers that after a whole day on the firing ranges the only thing that interests you is speaking with your mom and going to sleep.
During the entire month of January, I was called up for reserve duty operational activity at the Jericho area in the Jordan Valley along with my battalion. When I got home and saw the news, I saw that on a special day in the Knesset dedicated to LGBT rights, a bill of MK Revital Swid to change section definition in the law of Fallen Soldiers didn’t go through. The terrible section says that only with a straight couple where one of them died while serving the country, the other will be recognized as an IDF widow, and if, God forbid, the child of a same-sex couple looses his life at war – only one parent will be defined as a Bereaved Parent.
I read it and couldn’t believe it. If I die in war the compensation officer of the Defense Ministry will not recognize my partner automatically as an IDF widow and a bereaved husband, even if we are Known in Public. Moreover, the law also automatically includes victims of terror. Therefore, should my child be harmed during a terror attack only one of us will be recognized as a bereaved parent.
There’s the precedent of Adir Steiner who had to fight to be recognized as a army widower 20 years ago, after his partner Doron, died while serving. The heroic legal battle of Adir was an important one for the gay community, but the ruling also stated that: “if the Israeli society recognizes homosexual relationships, and brings them to the level of legitimacy as ‘family’ and a same-sex couple to a level of ‘family member’, at least in accordance with the law at issue here – it should be done by way of legislation and not by an unpaved interpretation where the unclarity is greater than the direct.”
20 years have passed since then and the LGBT community has become an integral part of Israeli society; I’m a living example of that. There is no reason that the Fallen Soldiers law won’t be changed and eventually recognize an LGBT family as bereaved. This situation, in which the state sends me to fight and perhaps sacrifice my life, but is not ready to recognize my family, is unbearable.
I love the country, I love the army and I’m ready even to sacrifice my life for it, but I can not accept a situation in which the country is not ready to accept my partner or children as family, just because I was born with a sexual orientation that is not suitable to some people in the Israeli government. My fight is not only a fight for the gay community, it is the struggle for every soldier, every reservist and every Israeli citizen. On this coming Memorial Day, I demand from the Israeli government to change the law of the bereaved families, so that I can continue to serve my country proudly.