Australia rebuffs UK rule on gay troops

`Now we have another persecution. Of course they don't kill gay people in this country. They just ruin their lives.' Two men hounded out of the services, Page 8
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The Independent Online

Legal Affairs Correspondent

Australia has rebuffed a British request not to send any more gay servicemen on attachment with UK forces.

The row came to a head when the RAF expelled a visiting Australian sergeant from an RAF base, and the conflict seems certain to reoccur with gays allowed to serve unquestioned in the Australian armed forces.

David Clark, Labour's defence spokesman, described the Ministry of Defence's attitude to allied servicemen as "completely unacceptable". He said: "The sole criteria for considering service personnel should be operational." British forces frequently serve alongside gay and lesbian servicemen and women during Nato exercises.

Britain's policy of banning gays in the armed forces, because they supposedly threaten operational effectiveness and morale, has already come under pressure with a High Court ruling this week that an RAF nurse dismissed for being a lesbian could challenge the rule as unlawful.

The rejected Australian sergeant, who has not been named, was serving in Britain at RAF Shawbury. Six weeks before the end of his attachment, the RAF discovered he was gay and told the Australian High Commission. He spent the remainder of his attachment behind a desk at the Commission in London and has now returned home to continue his career.

Australia has followed almost every country in the West by allowing gays and lesbians to serve in its forces, and has told the MoD it will not check service personnel before they serve attachments with the British forces. Australia changed its rules in 1992.

An MoD spokesman conceded yesterday there had been no suggestion that the Australian sergeant's sexuality had in any way affected his work or caused any difficulties with colleagues. But he said: "It has always been the case with visiting personnel that `when in Rome, you do as Rome does'," and follow the procedures of the host forces."

Commander Vince Di Pietro, in charge of the defence staff at the Australian High Commission in London, said the sergeant had come to work for him after leaving the base, and his career would be unaffected by the incident. "You need to understand our policy. Sexuality is of no concern." Service personnel would not be asked before they came to Britain for attachments. "We'd be breaking our own policy if we made it an issue at our end," he said. If the British forces complain about other Australians being gay, they will be considered "case by case".

BBC Radio 5's Out This Week will highlight the case tonight.