Army on Parade for Gay Recruits
The Sunday Times - Britain
August 28, 2005
Army on parade for gay recruits
Jonathan Leake and Philip Cardy
THE army came out in style this weekend when it launched a recruitment drive aimed at tempting more gays, lesbians, transvestites and even transsexuals into the ranks.
It set up a recruitment stall at the Gay Pride festival in Manchester, backing its new-found commitment to homosexual rights by sending 10 gay and lesbian soldiers in combat trousers and tight T-shirts to join thousands of marchers on a five-mile parade through the city.
They strode out behind a float put together by the RAF, which was also recruiting. Themed on a fighter jet, it featured an oversized cockpit and a banner proudly proclaiming, “RAF rise above the rest”.
At the stall, the men in uniform, complete with medals, mingled with eager would-be recruits, one dressed in tight leather shorts and a pink cowboy hat.
It was the first time the army had actively tried to recruit from such groups. It says it simply wants to tap into the talents of the gay population.
Lieutenant-Colonel Leanda Pitt, commander of regional recruiting in the northwest, said: “It is such a massive event in the Manchester calendar that we can’t afford not to attend. As far as the army is concerned, sexual orientation is a private matter.”
For campaigners, however, the sight of gay soldiers on parade was more reminiscent of a victory march.
It was only because gay rights groups such as Stonewall went to the European Court of Human Rights in 1999 that the Ministry of Defence was forced to lift its long-standing ban on homosexuality in the services.
Yesterday Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, welcomed the military presence at the Gay Pride march. He said: “The army is now beginning to realise that even at infantry level there are very good, tough lesbians and gay men who are capable of serving very competently. There is a huge pool of talented lesbian and gay people out there who want to serve their country.”
This weekend, the MoD confirmed the new policy also applied to transvestites and transsexuals. A spokesman said: “People’s sexual orientation is none of our business. We have a code of social conduct that everyone has to follow whatever their preference.”
The RAF became the first of the armed forces to take part in a Gay Pride festival when it joined the same Manchester march last year.
The police have allowed uniformed officers to take part in such events since 2003. Yesterday there were contingents from three forces — Greater Manchester, Cheshire and North Yorkshire.
While the march continued, the army’s recruiting stand did brisk business. The officers manning it were dressed in full military regalia, but were easily outdone by their would-be recruits: one sported a pair of red devil horns and a cape.
Captain Guy Sutcliffe said hundreds of people had taken leaflets and many more were expected to visit before the festival ends tomorrow.
He said: “We are actively recruiting anyone. We reflect society irrespective of sexuality, gender or religion.” Sutcliffe said the army had “no idea” how many gay soldiers there were within its ranks. “It’s not relevant,” he said. “It’s not something we monitor.”
Such attitudes mark a huge change within the forces. Recruitment of non-heterosexuals has only been permitted since 1999 when the European court ruled the ban on gays was against the law.
Since then, the RAF has led the way in promoting diversity. It attended last year’s Manchester Gay Pride and a similar event in Brighton this year, and has also supported transsexual officers seeking sex-change treatment.
In 2000 Flight Lieutenant Eric Cookson became Flight Lieutenant Caroline Paige and last year two squadron leaders applied to have £32,000 sex-change operations and now fly as women.
Warrant Officer Lutha Magloire, 39, of the Logistic Corps, who organised the soldiers’ contingent, said he had asked for 10 recruits — and got 30 volunteers. “We don’t really care what sexual orientation you are if you want to come and join us in the army.”