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.
In pictures: Homeless Veterans appeal
In pictures: Homeless Veterans appeal
1/20 Glynn Barrell
Glyn Barrell is among the veterans hoping to benefit from the self-build scheme in Plymouth
2/20 Rachel Holliday
Rachel Holliday is converting a police station into a hostel
3/20 Androcles Scicluna
Veteran Androcles Scicluna says performing boosted his confidence
4/20 Christopher Cole
Christopher Cole, 51, from London, spent three years in the Army but left in 1982
5/20 Maurillia Simpson
Former servicewoman Maurillia Simpson with the medals she won at last year’s Invictus Games
Jeremy Selwyn/Evening Standard
6/20 Martin Rutledge
Head of The Soldiers’ Charity, Martin Rutledge, says charities sometimes allow emotion to dictate their choices
7/20 Ben Griffin
Ben Griffin wants to open people’s eyes to the cycle of political violence
8/20 Robin Horsfall
Robin Horsfall, who fought in the Falklands and helped end the Iranian embassy siege
9/20 Mark Hayward
A bed for the night and food helped Mark Hayward out of misfortune
10/20 Ashley Rosser
Ashley Rosser, who served in the RAF, at the Veterans Aid hostel in east London
11/20 Dave Henson
Britain's Invictus Games captain Dave Henson says veterans’ charities helped rebuild his life
Chris Jackson/Getty Images
12/20 Hugh Milroy
Hugh Milroy dispels myths about war-zone veterans through his work as the CEO of Veterans Aid
13/20 Andy MacFarlane and Julie Taylor
Former soldiers Andy MacFarlane and Julie Taylor work at the Jaguar Land Rover plant in Solihull under a covenant connecting veterans with employers
14/20 Mark McKillion
Mark McKillion's experience of living on the street eventually left him feeling as though the only way to escape was to end his life. He survived his desperate jump from Westminster Bridge, and VA's help has restored his "faith in humanity"
Nigel, a navy veteran, remembers living on the beach in the run-up to Christmas, when it rained every day for a week. He slept on a bench for seven years whilst suffering from Parkinson's disease.
16/20 Keith Cooper
Before Keith Cooper had his place confirmed at Avondale House in Newcastle, he was working out whether he could afford to buy a tent to live in
17/20 Simon Weston
Simon Weston, a Falklands War veteran, said even something as simple as a cup of tea can be an important step in getting the life of a homeless veteran back on track.
18/20 Ian Palmer, professor of military psychiatry
Ian Palmer, the first professor of military psychiatry to the British Armed Forces, says that the depiction of all ex-service personnel having post-traumatic stress disorder may stop people who really need help from getting it
19/20 Douglas Cameron
Evgeny Lebedev with Douglas Cameron, who had a hernia operation while serving in Burma
Johnnie Shand Kidd
20/20 Veterans Aid
General Sir Mike Jackson, President of ABF The Soldiers' Charity, called for donations to the Homeless Veterans appeal
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.Reuse content