This month, for the first time in its history, the cover of the British Army's official publication Soldier magazine shows Trooper James Wharton – openly gay – clad in his dress uniform, complete with Iraq medal, next to the headline "Pride". It is the most obvious sign that almost a decade after the military lifted the ban on homosexuality it is finally comfortable with its new clothes.According to the article, senior British officers have been "quietly" advising senior American officers on how America can change DADT and ensure a similar success.
British servicemen and women now march at Gay Pride in uniform, all three services have become Stonewall diversity champions and a few months ago the head of the British Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt made history when he became the first army chief to address a Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender conference. "Respect for others is not an optional extra," he said.
The importance of a policy and culture in which gay servicemembers can serve openly, important to both the servicemembers themselves and to the public they protect, is made plain in the story of another soldier who never had the opportunity Trooper Wharton had.
In the genteel atmosphere of the Coldstream Guards' officers' mess, Lieutenant Mark Wakeling was known as "thug". Amongst his fellow guardsmen, he prided himself on being the toughest, the fittest and the most aggressive.Blub.
He not only laughed at homophobic jokes – he was the "straightest of the straight" amongst the young officers. When one of his platoon admitted to being gay, he immediately started the discharge process.
Nobody realised that behind the excessively macho behaviour was a young man who lived in fear that his own homosexuality would be discovered. Eventually, the pressure became too much and he cut short his military career and resigned his commission. "I scurried away like a frightened rat," he explained yesterday, bitter regret still evident in his expression more than a decade later.
...For Mr Wakeling, the news that Trooper Wharton can genuinely live openly as a gay man with a boyfriend in another ancient and prestigious regiment, the Household Cavalry, generates such obvious turmoil that he has to pause to compose himself. "I can't express how fantastic it is to know they are able to be themselves. I regret that I lost out. I felt I didn't really fulfill my ambition in the army. It was tragic. I was a good soldier. I could have been useful to the army," explained Mr Wakeling.
Let us hope we achieve the same success soon. The arguments about troop morale, already quite evidently manifest codswallop, are just laughable when the British military has 10 years of convincing evidence to the contrary. There is no intellectual honesty in the unit cohesion argument anymore, if there ever was; only bigotry.
[H/T to my pal Jess over at The F-Word, via email.]