Despite being close allies, the United States and Israel are worlds apart when it comes to determining the role of openly homosexual soldiers in their armies.
On Monday night, Israeli Defense Force Sergeant Lee Hiromoto ’06 and former West Point cadet Katie Miller ’12 met at the Slifka Center to discuss the Israeli military’s tolerance of homosexuality and the United States’ decades-long prohibition of open homosexuality among its servicemen and women, repealed in December. The event, attended by about 40 students and community members, marked Miller’s first public discussion of her highly publicized story before a group of Yale students.
“I didn’t think that homosexuality was incompatible with military service,” Miller said. “Frankly, West Point just took precedence. It was something I was going to do no matter what.”
Miller said she knew she was a lesbian before applying to West Point. By her sophomore year, Miller decided that she could not serve under a false identity, so she resigned from the Academy and transferred to Yale. The move sparked a controversy over the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which forbade gay military personnel from openly serving.
Hiromoto’s military experience differed greatly from Miller’s. Raised in Hawaii by a non-Jewish family, Hiromoto said he adopted Judaism after coming to Yale.
He soon moved to Israel to study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on a scholarship from Yale, and upon gaining Israeli citizenship, Hiromoto was drafted into the Israeli army. However, Hiromoto claims that his homosexuality was a non-factor while serving in the media relations department of the Israeli Defense Force in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. While working in the West Bank, Hiromoto said, he carried a rifle, received combat pay, and was under threat of attacks from improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
“When crunch time comes, and the weight is upon your shoulders, people only care that you get your job done,” Hiromoto said. “They don’t care whom you love, who you sleep with.”
Hiromoto also has American military experience: In high school, he said, he participated in the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps, or JROTC. When applying to college, Hiromoto said, his colonel in the JROTC expected him to apply for a college scholarship from the army. When George Bush ’68 won the presidential election in 2000, Hiromoto realized that “don’t ask, don’t tell” would not be repealed and that he would be ineligible to serve in the American military.
Throughout his discussion with Miller, Hiromoto often stressed that allowing openly homosexual soldiers to serve did not affect either the morale or efficiency of the Israeli Defense Force.
Miller and Hiromoto also discussed the role of gay and lesbian soldiers in militaries worldwide. Besides Israel, the Netherlands, Russia, Germany and the United Kingdom all allow openly homosexual soldiers to serve. Despite this, Miller said, the US military prides itself on not following examples set by other nations.
Caroline Elenowitz ’12 and Victor Wang ’14 both said they enjoyed learning more about the Israeli Defense Force from Hiromoto, and hearing Miller and Hiromoto compare experiences.
“I thought Katie’s portion was moving, but still presented objectively, which was admirable and itself inspiring,” Wang said. “Hiromoto’s portion was less relevant for me, but I still appreciated hearing about a different military culture.”
The event was hosted by the Slifka Center with support from the LGBT Co-Op, Hillel and Yale Friends of Israel.