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
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
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.

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015