She is the first military HBT officer

There is still a great deal remaining to do to make it easier for homosexual, bisexual and transgendered individuals within the Armed Forces to be open and respected. Petra Jäppinen has been appointed as the first HBT officer for the Swedish Armed Forces and indeed, the first ever HBT officer in any military organisation in the world.

Petra Jäppinen is the first HBT officer appointed by a military organisation. Jargon and attitudes are amongst the most important things to address, she feels. Photo: Anders Sjödén

When Krister Fahlstedt performed a survey in 2003, seven out of ten homosexual, bisexual and transgendered individuals felt they could not be open about their sexual orientation. These figures are the opposite in society in general. In recent years, the Swedish Armed Forces have sought to improve the climate for employees through project such as All Clear and Normative Diversity.

Jäppinen joined the Swedish Armed Forces in May.  She had previously lived in Dublin for seven years where she worked at an HBT centre as development coordinator. She now brings her experiences to the Swedish Armed Forces.

"I think it is a very positive move and the Swedish Armed Forces have done a great deal to improve the situation, although I think there is plenty still to be done. The situation also varies widely between units."

One of the main tasks is to develop an HBT plan for the Swedish Armed Forces and ensure it is implemented. Right now, the HBT officer is working with officers for other forms of discrimination to produce a common equal treatment plan, which would include the HBT plan.  
"I shall try to come up with proposals for specific measures to ensure the HBT plan is adhered to. This work will also entail plenty of contact with the units and visits around the country. This autumn I am going to visit several units along with other discrimination officers, partly to introduce ourselves. Otherwise there is a risk that we would fall off the radar in such a large organisation."

Jäppinen feels that one of the biggest problems is the culture in the Swedish Armed Forces.  
"It is very much a macho culture, or has been in any case, and this has left its mark. Men still make up the majority of combat personnel. We have to change attitudes and the everyday jargon. Many situations that arise are not ill meant, but we do have to get all our personnel to think about what they are actually saying."

The different grounds of discrimination for the different groups have a great deal in common, but when it comes to HBT issues, jargon and attitudes are amongst the most important, she feels.  
"The Swedish Armed Forces should be a workplace that is open and welcoming to all. As a gay man, you should be able to tell your colleagues that you had been to the cinema with your boyfriend etc. The goal is an environment where individuals can be open about their sexual orientation if they wish. The option should be available, and this should not be sensational. It is not just a question of tolerance, it is about accepting a person as they are."