Concerns about gays in the UK Armed Forces revealed

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

A document obtained under the Freedom of Information Act has shed light on the worries some military personnel had about openly gay and lesbian people serving.

A review by the Service Personnel Board from 2002, obtained by The Times, revealed that some had left the Navy over the issue and listed concerns over heterosexuals having to share showers and accommodation with gay servicemen and women.

In 2000, the government removed the ban on gay, lesbian and bisexual people serving openly in the Armed Forces.

Since then the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force have joined the Stonewall Diversity Champions Scheme.

The scheme promotes best practice and gives organisations guidance and advice on how to create equality in the workplace.

The Service Personnel Board document reveals that a number of non-commissioned officers had left rather than deal with gay or lesbians.

“This stratum of naval society is considered to be one of the most traditional and, correspondingly, there remains some disquiet in the Senior Ratings’ Messes concerning the policy on homosexuality within the Service,” the review said.

“This has manifested itself in a number of personnel electing to leave the Service, although in only one case was the policy change cited as the only reason for going.”

The Times reports that RAF personnel were concerned about same-sex couples moving into family housing and being in close proximity to their children.

Other issues raised in the review include heterosexuals do not want to share rooms with homosexuals.

“Privacy should be mutually respected and soldiers should not be compelled to share accommodation with persons of a different gender or sexual orientation,” the report read.

“There is a strong feeling that toilets and showers should be separated as per male and female arrangements;

“A perception that operational effectiveness might be undermined (by) living in close proximity with homosexuals on operations.”

Since the ban on gay and lesbian people serving in the British Armed Forces was lifted in 2000, there have been few reported problems.

However, this year’s Pride London exposed deep division among the services over whether or not to march in uniform.

In June the Chief of the General Staff issued orders banning LGB Army staff from marching in unifom at the event or from wearing anything that would identify their Army role.

General Sir Richard Dannatt’s decision caused controversy at the Ministry of Defence and among the gay community. He was said to be concerned with a possible breach of the Queen’s Regulations, which bar military personnel from taking part in political activities.

Days later the Royal Air Force announced that personnel who wore uniform to march in the Pride parade in London would face disciplinary action.

A letter from Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy, the Chief of the Air Staff, to station commanders said that LGB airmen and women can attend Pride but not in uniform.

The Royal Navy allowed sailors to march in uniform at Pride and use it as a recruitment opportunity.

In June a military officer responsible for equality training has now issued an apology to the thousands of gay men and lesbians who were discharged from the British Armed forces because of their sexuality.

Wing Commander Phil Sagar runs the armed forces joint equality and diversity training centre.

He told BBC Radio 4:

“Of course we’re sorry for anyone who’s suffered personal trauma.”