Soldiers can wear their uniforms with pride at gay parade, says MoD
Damian Barr and Lucy Bannerman
Combat trousers and dog tags have long been in fashion at London’s annual Gay Pride parade. However, this year, for the first time, real soldiers will be allowed to wear the military uniform alongside the rainbow flags and banners.
After issuing strict edicts last year forbidding army personnel from attending the parade in uniform, the Army has finally bowed to pressure to lift the ban.
The move brings it in line with the more relaxed approach of the RAF and the Royal Navy, which gave approval for gay sailors to march in uniform last June.
Individuals from all three Services will now be able to celebrate their profession and sexuality at the same time on July 5 without fear of facing disciplinary action.
An MoD spokesman confirmed the ban had been relaxed: “Personnel from all three Services can attend this year’s gay pride march in uniform. The individual services have reached their own decisions about the wearing of uniform at the event, having given the issue due consideration.
“The Armed Forces are committed to establishing a culture and climate where every individual’s contribution is respected and valued regardless of sexual orientation, race, ethnic origin, religion, gender or social background.”
New orders state that Service dress may be worn by members of the march. But parade paraphernalia, such as banners or whistles, are not allowed – the intended tone is military, not militant.
“During the march, proper military discipline is to be maintained. Arms are to be swung above waist height throughout, eyes front, and with no acknowledgement to the public.”
A defence source told The Times: “Observers at last year’s Pride were satisfied uniformed personnel can maintain the integrity of the military Services, especially with regards to respect for the dead as they pass the Cenotaph. To ensure this no uniformed personnel will attend the carnival afterwards.”
The source added that the new orders were part of a wider recruitment drive. “These people have made a commitment to the military. This is our commitment to them. Gays and lesbians are already serving with honour and we are actively recruiting more.”
Lieutenant-Commander Craig Jones, MBE, the most senior openly gay member of the military and lead consultant for the gay community in the Armed Forces, was among the 20 sailors in bell-bottoms who attended London Pride last year.
He said: “Men and women from the Armed Forces look and behave exactly like men and women from the Armed Forces. We are the front line of the Armed Forces, not the lineup of the Village People.”Referring to last year’s march, he said: “The Forces are all about integrity and it felt good to be honest. It was a great day and the sky didn’t fall in.”
General Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the Army, provoked criticism last year, when he told all men and women in the Service that they could not wear anything identifying them as soldiers if they attended the march.
He pointed to Queen’s Regulations which stipulate that service personnel should not appear in uniform at political events.
However, his stance conflicted with that of Admiral Sir Jonathon Band, the First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff, who authorised the attendance of uniformed sailors. The RAF compromised, with Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy allowing airmen to march in RAF polo shirts.
Derek Munn, Stonewall’s director of public affairs, welcomed the move, saying: “This is the latest in a series of strides made by the Forces to embrace lesbian and gay people in recent years. It shows there’s no part of society that cannot tackle homophobia, if there’s a will to do so.”
The Ministry of Defence issued an open apology last year to all servicemen and servicewomen who suffered persecution and discrimination before the ban on homosexuality was lifted eight years ago. Until then, men and women of the Armed Forces were dismissed if it was discovered that they were gay or lesbian.