Podium: The fight for equality within the armed forces

Krishnan Guru-Murthy

From a speech given by the journalist and broadcaster to the Ministry of Defence conference `Strength Through Diversity'

THE ARMED forces have declared war on discrimination. I hope we can all start agreeing that equality of opportunity is a fundamental aspiration of this country and a goal worth fighting for. But declaring war is not enough; the armed forces must go out there and take the fight to the people.

If Britain's ethnic minorities want equality, we have incumbent on us a moral duty to embrace all sections of life and work. We cannot enjoy the democratic freedoms and economic opportunities without contributing to everything that guarantees them.

The armed forces recognise that, if ethnic minorities are to join them, they must have the right to equality. And they recognise that they must convince the ethnic minorities that they are taking steps to guarantee it. Most important, they have recognised the need for leadership. It has been the key development of the last two years. The Chief of Defence Staff, all the service chiefs and senior officers have recognised that it is up to the leaders to make this happen. We are here to talk about equal opportunities and we must also talk about another key area that the armed forces are about to have thrust upon them - the question of gays in the military.

For decades now, the armed forces have used the justification of defending operational effectiveness and morale to keep homosexuals out. It was, incidentally, the same excuse the Americans used to give for keeping black and white soldiers segregated in the Second World War. Of course, the policy has not worked. There are homosexuals who currently serve in the armed forces, and there always have been. Statistically there must be hundreds, if not thousands.

But until now, when discovered gay soldiers have been expelled. The European Court of Human Rights has put a stop to that. It was, said the ruling, wrong to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. The Ministry of Defence has said it accepts the judgment of the court, and before long we can expect the Government to lift the ban on homosexuals serving in the armed forces. It will, most likely, coincide with a strict code of sexual conduct affecting everyone in the military, heterosexual or homosexual. And Britain will go from having one of the most Draconian policies on gays in the military in Nato, to one of the most liberal. Much more liberal, for example, than that of the United States.

But a change in policy, which is now inescapable, will not be the end of the matter but the start. It will spawn a whole new round of equal opportunities debate for the armed forces. There will be many questions raised, because the armed forces have to decide whether they will welcome the change and pursue it with enthusiasm or whether they would rather be dragged into it kicking and screaming.

When the Army has to welcome homosexual soldiers on the same basis as heterosexuals, what happens if they are bullied or discriminated against? What happens if they are the victims of harassment in the unit, in the same way black and Asian soldiers have been? Will the leadership condemn it and root it out?

The forces will have to decide whether to set up the same kinds of support systems and complaints procedures as were devised for ethnic minorities. Will they target homosexual recruits in the same way they do with ethnic minorities? And if not, why not? If the Army really wants the best of Britain, can it go on ignoring a whole sector of the country, just hoping they won't want to use their new rights?

The future of this debate - its success or failure - really lies with the young black and Asian people here. The challenge now lies with you. It is for the armed forces to open the door. But if you find it open only so far, it is up to you and all of us to kick it wide open. If you decide to join, do so with your eyes open.

The armed forces have changed and they must change further, but they will do so only with your help. I can think of no better reasoning than that given by the American civil rights leader Martin Luther King. In a speech at St Louis in 1964 he said:

"We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools."

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat