Sexual orientation and the military of the United Kingdom

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Gays and lesbians have been allowed to serve openly in the Her Majesty's Armed Forces since 2000. The United Kingdom's policy is to allow homosexual men, lesbians and transgender personnel to serve openly, and discrimination on a sexual orientation basis is forbidden.[1] It is also forbidden for someone to pressure LGBT people to come out. All personnel are subject to the same rules against sexual harassment, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

History[edit]

Stonewall, a British LGB rights pressure group, spearheaded the movement to rescind British military prohibitions against openly-LGB servicemembers. It began when Robert Ely, who had served in the British Army for seventeen years, approached Stonewall. The discovery of a letter had led to his sexual orientation being disclosed and he was subjected to an investigation and thrown out of the army.

In 1998, Stonewall was approached by Jeanette Smith, who had been thrown out of the Royal Air Force, and Duncan Lustig Prean, a Royal Navy commander who was being dismissed. They asked Stonewall to arrange legal representation, leading to a long battle through the courts with Graham Grady and John Beckett also joining the case. At that time there was no Human Rights Act. Although the judges in the High Court and Court of Appeal said that they felt the ban was not justified they could not overturn it and Stonewall had to take the case to Strasbourg and the European Court of Human Rights before winning it. (According to a national opinion poll published a week before the ruling, the ban had been opposed by 68% of Britons.[2][3]) The judgment of the Court was a vindication of the rights of lesbians and gay men and the Labour government of the time immediately announced that they would lift the ban. This took place on 12 January 2000, and a new general code of sexual conduct was introduced.

In February 2005, the Royal Navy joined Stonewall's Diversity Champions programme, followed in November 2006 by the Royal Air Force and by the British Army, the largest of the three services, in June 2008, to promote good working conditions for all existing and potential employees and to ensure equal treatment for those who are lesbian, gay and bisexual.

At London Pride 2008, all three armed services marched in uniform for the first time.[4] All three services openly recruit at gay pride events, recognise civil partnerships as equal to marriage[5] and enjoy support for homosexual personnel at the very highest levels.[6]

Current policy[edit]

The British military actively recruits gay men and lesbians, all three services have deployed recruiting teams to gay pride events, and punishes any instance of intolerance or bullying. The Royal Navy advertises for recruits in gay magazines and has allowed gay sailors to hold civil partnership ceremonies on board ships and, since 2006, to march in full naval uniform at a gay pride marches. British Army and Royal Air Force personnel could march but had to wear civilian clothes until 2008, now all military personnel are permitted to attend Gay Pride marches in uniform.[7]

The current policy was accepted at the lower ranks first, with many senior officers worrying for their troops without a modern acceptance of homosexuality that their personnel had grown up with, one Brigadier resigned but with little impact. Since the change support at the senior level has grown. General Sir Richard Dannatt, the Chief of the General Staff (head of the Army), told members of the Army-sponsored Fourth Joint Conference on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual Matters that homosexuals were welcome to serve in the Army. In a speech to the conference in 2008, the first of its kind by any Army chief, General Sir Richard said that respect for gays, lesbian, bi-sexual and transsexual officers and soldiers was now "a command responsibility" and was vital for "operational effectiveness".[8]

The British Army requires all soldiers to undergo Equality and Diversity training as part of their Military Annual Training Tests and stress tolerance, specifically citing homosexual examples in training videos, in line with the British Army Core Values and Standards, including 'Respect for Others' and 'Appropriate Behaviour'. It considers its Core Values and standards as central to being a professional soldier.

In 2009, the tenth anniversary of the change of law that permitted homosexuality in the Armed Forces, it was generally accepted that the lifting of the ban had had no negative effect on the operational effectiveness on a military that still considers itself world class, and indeed that it increased productivity by freeing gay and lesbian soldiers from the effort of hiding their sexual orientation.[9] The anniversary was widely celebrated, including in the Army's in house publication Soldier Magazine, with a series of articles including the July 2009 Cover Story and articles in all the national newspapers.[10][11][12]

Couples' benefits[edit]

Since the legalisation of gay civil partnerships in the UK, the British Military immediately recognised civil partnerships and granted married gay couples exactly the same rights to allowances and housing as straight couples. The Ministry of Defence stated "We're pleased personnel registered in a same sex relationship now have equal rights to married couples."

Spouses in civil partnerships are entitled to spousal benefits (including life insurance benefits, pensions, employment benefits), immigration equality, and similar recognition as opposite-sex military spouses for tax purposes. Civil partners are also allowed accommodation in military housing, security clearance and allowances.[13]

References[edit]