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
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
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.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam