Equal in the Army, so long as you're not gay

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The Independent Online
WHAT, exactly, is an equal opportunities employer? As far as the Army is concerned, it is an employer that offers equal opportunities - to everyone but gays.

The question arose yesterday when the Advertising Standards Authority said it was investigating whether the Army can truthfully claim to be such an employer, given that homosexuals are banned from serving in its ranks.

The ASA has received complaints about a recruitment poster in which the Army in effect brags about its enlightened policies. The poster features four soldiers of different ethnic origins, and carries the slogan: "The Army Can't Be An Equal Opportunities Employer Without You." The ASA has decided that there is a case to answer and has begun a formal investigation into possible breaches of its guidelines. If it judges the advertisement to be misleading or untruthful, it can order it be withdrawn or amended.

All three armed services have a long-standing ban on serving homosexuals, which is being contested before the European Court of Human Rights.

The poster, which has appeared on buses and hoardings in the regions, is part of a recruitment drive launched by the Army last year to attract more people from ethnic minorities. At the time, General Sir Roger Wheeler, chief of the general staff, said that the Army wished to counter lingering perceptions that it was a racist organisation. It appears to be less sensitive, however, to charges of sexual prejudice. Yesterday, a spokesman said: "We are not equal opportunity employers as far as homosexuals are concerned, and that is a legal position.

"We don't employ homosexuals and the advertisement does not invite applications from homosexuals, nor does it lead anyone to suppose that we are inviting such applications. In that sense it is truthful to our employment policy."

Previous posters have stated that the Army is an equal opportunities employer, but only as a line at the bottom. It is the prominence of it in this latest advertisement that prompted the ASA to take action. "In the past, we have taken the view that most people would be aware that it was the Army's definition of equal opportunities that applied," said a spokesman.

The ASA has contacted the Army and asked it to justify the statement, which it believes may contravene two clauses of its code: the need to provide objective substantiation of any claim, if challenged, and the rule that advertisements should not mislead "through inaccuracy, ambiguity, exaggeration, omission or otherwise".