There was a time, not too long ago, when one could not find a NATO flag draped in the rainbow colors of an LGBT+ pride flag. When you would not see an LGBT+ pride flag flying from a US embassy. When corporations of the military industrial complex were not attending pride events. When most politicians in the US and Europe were not issuing statements of supposed support for LGBT+ people. You don’t even have to go into the last century to find this time, this was how it was only a few short years ago.
So why is it now that we see these things? Why do NATO officials take pictures with the NATO flag in rainbow colors, saying things like “NATO was a world leader on same-sex marriage” as the Deputy Spokesperson for NATO, Dylan P. White, tweeted in May of 2019. Has this western military alliance of imperialist countries really been a vanguard of LGBT+ rights in the world? Are the nations comprising this alliance really sanctuaries for LGBT+ people? Do the actions of NATO actually benefit the LGBT+ community at all?
We must examine these claims, as we will see that NATO is only saying and doing these things to use and co-opt the LGBT+ movement, not to make LGBT+ people more supportive of the alliance (NATO could care less who actually supports them), but to make themselves look better on “human rights” and use it as an imperialist card to play against the nations that aren’t under western hegemony, such as Russia and China. This co-optative maneuvering should anger the LGBT+ community and the progressive movements which fought against neglectful, oppressive western governments for years on this very issue.
The claim by Dylan P. White, repeated proudly by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and others, was that “the organization extended equal benefits to same-sex couples in 2002, when only 1 country – the Netherlands – had equal marriage.” The evidence behind this claim is hard to find, but all-in-all, it really does not mean much. What this claim seems to mean is that NATO extended equal benefits to same-sex couples that worked within the organization in 2002, which isn’t all that groundbreaking. If that is the only thing NATO officials can cite right off the top of their head, then they really are not a “world leader” on same-sex marriage.
As a matter of fact, only 15 out of 31 NATO member states, or 48.4%, have legalized same-sex marriage nationwide as of April 2023. None of the Baltic or Balkan states have legalized same-sex marriage, the same countries which border Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Since 2002, only ~30 countries worldwide have legalized same-sex marriage, out of 195 countries. 17 of those countries are not in NATO. Therefore, if NATO was a “world leader” on same-sex marriage, wouldn’t more of the world have took their lead on legalizing it? At the very least, wouldn’t at least most of their own membership have legalized it? Not a very great “world leader” evidently.
Let’s also examine the rights of LGBT+ people in the NATO countries themselves. By far the worst conditions in a NATO country for LGBT+ people are in Poland (the largest supporter of Fascist Ukraine in Europe and the country which has pledged to fight Russia if Ukraine’s govt falls). In Poland, same-sex marriage has been constitutionally banned since 1997, LGBT+ individuals may not adopt, and “LGBT Free Zones” have been informally set up in many parts of Southeast Poland in which LGBT+ individuals and rights are not welcome and LGBT+ events such as pride parades are illegal. Over 100 municipalities have LGBT+ free zones and besides the European Union denying funding to these municipalities and the Parliament condemning them, nothing has been done to end these zones and Poland is the only EU state to opt out of the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights because of this.
Another country in NATO which has historically been very oppressive of LGBT+ people is Turkey. Turkey has no recognition of same-sex marriages, civil unions or domestic partnerships, no protections whatsoever for LGBT+ people, bans homosexuals from serving in their military and many cities and states have banned LGBT+ events and organizations for being immoral or because of “security concerns.” In Turkish culture, it is also somewhat common for families to commit “honour killings” of LGBT+ family members. Many of the victims of these murders have never received justice. Turkey has faced no consequences from NATO nor the EU for any of this discrimination and remains one of the main players in the alliance.
It may seem that it is only in Central or Eastern Europe that LGBT+ rights are poor, and discrimination and violence are prevalent, but this is not true. Italy was ranked by ILGA-Europe as the worst place in Western Europe for LGBT+ rights. Same-sex marriage is not legal, many discrimination protections are lacking, same-sex families may not adopt children and up until 2015, sterilization was required to change gender legally.
Beyond Europe, the LGBT+ discrimination in the United States must not be discounted here. After all, the United States is essentially the father of NATO and the largest military force involved in the alliance. While same-sex marriage is legal, same-sex couples can adopt,
discrimination against LGBT+ people is banned, and gender changes can be done without any medical intervention, there are multiple ongoing legislative challenges to these recently won reforms in the United States, mostly from the Republican party.
Currently, there are over 500 anti-trans bills in 45 state legislatures around the country, with some states having as much as 50 bills advancing through state legislatures right now. Furthermore, some US Supreme Court justices, such as Clarence Thomas, have suggested overturning landmark rulings based on a clause of the 14th amendment. The Obergefell v Hedges ruling of 2015, the historic ruling that struck down all same-sex marriage bans in all 50, states and effectively legalized same-sex marriage in the United States of America, has been referenced as one that could face an overturn in the near future.
In the last century, every single NATO country had bans on same-sex marriage, discriminated against LGBT+ people and continued the oppression of LGBT+ people that preceded many of the bourgeois republics in the alliance. West Germany, for example, not only kept Paragraph 175 – the German Empire era law against homosexuality in Germany that was expanded by the Nazis to round up LGBT+ people and massacre them during the Holocaust – until the German reunification of 1990 but kept the version of the law with Nazi language and continued the same punishments for LGBT+ individuals as there had been in Nazi Germany. In comparison, East Germany used the version from the Weimar republic, immediately removed the anti-gay parts of the law, and although it banned gay literature and organizations early on, it later reversed this and repealed Paragraph 175 entirely in 1968, 22 years before the rest of Germany.
The United States was also highly discriminatory towards LGBT+ people in the last century. Concurrent with the McCarthyist “Red Scare” of the late 1940’s and 1950’s was the “Lavender Scare” which targeted “sexual perverts” in the United States government and was used to crack down on LGBT+ people in the government that in any way challenged the status quo of the United States and its imperialist system.
There was also heavy police repression of American LGBT+ communities, such as in the case of the world-famous incident in 1968 at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village area of New York City, in which the New York City Police Department raided the inn, which was resisted in a series of riots by LGBT+ people and allies alike. Following this was years of the first “pride” events in commemoration, many of which were without permits and were denounced by politicians and law enforcement alike. These events occurred for nearly 45 years without corporations, law enforcement and many government officials joining in. The AIDS epidemic also arose in the United States and was neglected for years by the US Government under the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George H W Bush and was tossed aside as a “gay virus” as deaths continued to mount, many of which were of men who were not even gay and got the virus from sex with women who carried it and received it from other men who had it.
This is the history of the LGBT+ movement in the west, and the recently won reforms and protections and the rising level of consciousness on the issue across western society has only been due to the decades of hard, painful, sometimes deadly activism from the LGBT+ community, not the western governments or NATO. NATO was too busy risking nuclear war with the USSR, destroying Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and more, all of which was of no help to LGBT+ people. Only now when it is more acceptable in society and reforms have been won does NATO co-opt the movement and the symbolism of the community to make themselves seem like a vanguard of LGBT+ rights in the world. With this, the military and intelligence agencies of NATO countries are also acting as if they are changing, “diversifying” and becoming more LGBT+ friendly, appearing at pride events and changing their online logos to rainbow colors in June. It is obvious that Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon do not care about LGBT+ people either, once again, they are just using this to further their own interests.
Now, when another global conflict matching that of the last World War is on the horizon, and with the Russo-Ukrainian War raging and Chinese reunification with Taiwan looming, NATO and western military powers will use this issue in a hostile fashion. They will hammer home on the oppression of LGBT+ people which exists in Russia and China, as well as Iran and more, in an effort to increase public outcry against these nations and drum up support for further military intervention, as if it would do anything good for LGBT+ rights abroad. Very important to note here that while Taiwan has legalized same-sex marriage and has decent LGBT+ rights, Ukraine has the exact same constitutional bans on same-sex marriage as Russia does, and has banned same-sex marriage since 1996, whereas Russia only has since 2020.
When it comes to LGBT+ rights in the world, we must acknowledge that most nations in the world have struggled with this issue for decades if not centuries and are still behind in terms of these rights. Many nations outside of NATO, including Cuba, Vietnam and more, have made strides on LGBT+ rights in recent years and it would be a good assumption that countries like China, the DPRK and more will follow. Russia and China are facing war from the west right now, and that is going to take most of their attention. It would be unreasonable and useless for us to push them to improve LGBT+ rights in this climate of western imperialist aggression. We must reject the pinkwashing of the anti-imperialist nations at all costs. We must also maintain a primary focus on stopping WW3 or any further imperialist aggression towards these nations, and that means working with many anti-imperialists in our own country that are not the best on LGBT+ issues. If they’re willing to put aside our pro-LGBT+ stance and activism, then there should not be a problem with working with them to stop a global conflict.
Secondarily, we must fight against the violations and revocations of the civil rights and civil liberties of the LGBT+ community here in the United States and defend them from legislative assaults and fascistic violence. With that, we must attend pride events and other LGBT+ events and places and struggle against rainbow capitalism, corporate pride, pinkwashing, cops and feds at pride and more.
We see that NATO are hypocrites, and that they may wrap themselves in all the rainbows in the world but will never be a “world leader” of anything but imperialism, fascism and exploitation of the workers of the world. LGBT+ liberation will only be achieved when the western imperialism NATO upholds is destroyed.
PCUSA LBGT+ Commission