15 years after the ban on gay people in the military was lifted, we should celebrate the progress that has been made

A new generation is driving forward an agenda which is more reflective of the modern world

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The Independent Online

Today marks 15 years since the ban on gay people in the military was lifted, paving the way for gay people like me to serve openly, lawful protected from discrimination.

Today’s anniversary coincides with the introduction of a policy which will see recruits given the option to reveal their sexuality as part of an attempt to survey how many gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender people are serving – a move considered best practice in the modern day workplace. That said, there have been reports this weekend that suggest all is not well with regards to eradicating homophobia within the army.

I was disheartened to read about a reportedly long-term case of homophobia in my former regiment - the Household Cavalry. The alleged case involves a senior officer accused of bullying another over his sexuality for a number of years, and is in the process of being investigated by the Royal Military Police. It made me realise that although huge steps forward have been made, ultimately, homophobia is still all too evident within the military.

Unfortunately, there is a section of the military community who are less forward thinking and, all too often, homophobic. But I believe there is a reason for this.

As soon as I joined the army, I encountered some very overt homophobia. My Sergeant told all of us fresh-faced, 16 year-old recruits that gays would not be tolerated; I shuddered and firmly locked my secret up for another two years, not telling a soul.

But later, the only times I suffered discrimination were from members of the army who had signed up before the lifting of the ban, and had not, it seemed, accepted the change. Today, although I don’t excuse that behaviour, I at least understand why they acted, and still act, in such a way. The army, prior to 2000, encouraged this behaviour and overnight, 15 years ago, that changed. Some people just haven’t caught up with that.

Last year, all former members of the armed forces who currently sit in the House of Lords voted against equal marriage – including Lord Dannatt, who whilst presiding over the army, allowed me to feature on the cover of Soldier magazine in an attempt to make the army look more “gay friendly”. I feel I there’s an apparent lack of consistency here. But Dannatt and his Lords buddies are former members of an army which doesn’t exist anymore. An old-school army. And the bigots whom I came across, and who still serve – they are members of that former army, too.

Today the army is mostly populated with a new generation, one that is made up of forward-thinking, tech savvy and equality conscious men and women. They are leading the change and driving forward an agenda which is more reflective of the modern world. They are doing this in the face of the old-school hangers on from an army that died at the turning of the century – and soon they will be left to flourish.

It’s this generation which has lobbied the Ministry of Defence to introduce the optional surveying of sexual orientation within the Army – and it’s momentous.

It’s important to celebrate today. We should celebrate how far the military has come in such a relative short time. After all, society has had 47 years to get to where it is today in terms of gay equality; the army has been expected, and on the whole has been successful, in achieving that same standard in just 15 years.

The hangers on from that army of the past cannot take any credit for this incredible advancement. The credit lies with the men and women of our Modern Army. And I salute them. Happy anniversary boys and girls.

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