Armed Forces hold LGBT conference

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The third Joint Services Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual conference took place last week in London.

All three services approved the two day event, at which more than 100 service personnel were updated on developments in diversity training, participated in presentations and workshops, and took advantage of a social networking opportunity for personnel and their partners.

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

The aim of the conference, sponsored this year for the first time by the Royal Air Force, was to draw attention to policy and issues affecting the gay community within the Ministry of Defence.

Air Vice Marshal Simon Bryant, Chief of Staff for RAF personnel, said during his opening speech:

“It is crucial that members of the gay community are treated as key full members of the military community, that their hopes, fears and aspirations are listened to with respect and taken forward wherever that is consistent with wider departmental or service policy.

“This forum will be pivotal to that process.”

The Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force are both members of the Stonewall Diversity Champions programme.

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

Squadron Leader Mark Abrahams, a gay officer who joined the RAF in 1990, has witnessed the effects of the policy change, illustrated probably most clearly for him when he undertook a civil partnership:

“Our wedding reception was held in the Officers Mess on the Station.

“Not only was it a surprise to me to be able to be who I am but to do this [reception] in an RAF Officers Mess. That’s how much attitudes have changed.”

The current operational pressures faced by serving personnel was alluded to during the conference in relation to how tackling gay issues in the military could aid retention of experienced personnel in the services.

Cdr Graham Beard from the Royal Navy’s Equality and Diversity team expanded on the theme in his speech to encourage the conference attendees to raise concerns should they encounter any instances of discrimination, irrespective of whether an alleged victim was gay or not.

The last Services LGBT conference in January also attracted heavyweight support in the form of Rear Admiral Richard Ibbotson RN.

Over the summer each of the three services took a different attitude to personnel wearing uniform to march in Pride London.

The RAF announced that personnel who wore uniform to march in the Pride parade in London would face disciplinary action.

Previously the Chief of the General Staff issued orders banning LGB Army staff from marching in uniform at the event, held on June 30th.

General Sir Richard Dannatt was said to be concerned with a possible breach of the Queen’s Regulations, which bar military personnel from taking part in political activities.

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