Interview: Army Chief Andrew Gregory on why trans people might serve on the front line

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PinkNews caught up with the Chief of Defence Personnel for the armed forces, who discussed issues faced by trans people serving on the front lines, and said that pockets of homophobia still exist.

Lieutenant General Andrew Gregory is Chief of Defence Personnel, and in charge of diversity and inclusivity in the armed forces. He spoke to PinkNews about how he tackles challenging issues such as whether transgender people or women can serve in active duty.

He said: “I’m the effectively the HR for the Ministry of Defence. My vision is defence outputs delivered by the right mix of capable and motivated people, that represent the breadth of the society we exist to defend.”

Asked why it was important to represent society, was it really necessary, or is it simply a box-ticking exercise, he said: “We’ve absolutely got to tap all sections of society otherwise we simply won’t be able to get the people we need.

“We will be missing out on huge rafts of talents from Asian communities, LGBT people – all of you have much to offer defence. We would continue to be legitimate because our power to operate comes from Her Majesty, but we will not be seen by parts of society as being their armed forces and I think that’s a risk.”

He was keen to emphasise that his department is aware that a major issue still lies in representing women: “A critical area of weakness, where we are seriously under-represented are in females.

“Assuming 51% of the population and 51% of your readership are female, 10% of armed forces are female. While we may never get to 50/50 I don’t think, we are under-represented, and we are more under-represented as one goes further up the pyramid.”

The reason for this, he said, was a lack of flexibility in working time as well as – “the system [being] designed by men and run by men.”

He went on to say: “They are reading reports that are primarily written by men who don’t necessarily understand the way a woman might react to a set of circumstances. They see a reaction as weakness and therefore they report in that way, so it isn’t fair.”

Lieutenant Gregory spoke about the areas of the military where women are still barred from serving, and whether that was likely to change in the future.

“We exclude them from the infantry, the armoured corps, the Royal Marines and the royal air force regiment who conduct a ground based role, guarding airfields etc.

“Previous reviews have concluded that it was impossible to judge the potential on team cohesion without putting people into actual combat situations where you have women in those teams and you couldn’t take the risk of life by doing that.

“All the evidence in the reviews has suggested looking at other nations who have had women serving in close combat, and us who’ve had women on the front line in roles such as artillery engineers, logicians, medics.

“There is increasing evidence that we don’t yet fully understand and that is what is going on at the moment, because of the physiological difference between men and women – hip configuration, bone muscle density.

“Some women will be able to pass the entrance test for the infantry, I’ve no doubt about that, not many but some will. Perhaps not many will want to, but some will. But we do not know what the long-term physiological effects on their bodies of constantly carrying brutally heavy loads, 70-80 kilos, over long periods. That is the research going on, because we have a duty of care.”

While they appreciate the challenges that women within the military face, and what needs to be done to actively support women, on trans people’s inclusion things seemed less clear.

“We have them serving as I’m sure you know.

“We do not yet have any female transgender people serving in the infantry. We haven’t had to address it because we haven’t had the issue come up.

“It would be a very interesting test case if it did come up. If somebody – birth gender male who physically has all the physical strength and durability but had transitioned, they might well be able.

“What we continue to do as we better understand these things is to look at our policy. That’s my response – to make sure as far as possible they are inclusive. It’s an interesting question.”

Asked about inclusion for non-binary people, he admitted it was not something he had considered, and there was no official policy in that regard.

“I think we would find it difficult to accommodate them in those area where at the moment we don’t have open access to females. I don’t know quite what we’d do about accommodation and the practicalities around that – I’d have to think about it.

“There might not be very many people, but we shouldn’t directly exclude them.”

Overall, he was aware of where the armed forces had come from, and what they still had to do. His position on homophobia echoed his position on several other issues.

He said: “There’s always been quite a lot of gay people in the armed forces, and until 2000 they had to keep it hidden.

“There’s always been gay people in the army and they’ve served with great distinction and the joy now is they can be themselves a bit more.

“Now are we perfect? No. Do we still have pockets of homophobia? Yes, I’m afraid we do. Are we trying to address it? Yes.”