Tuesday, February 22, 2005

New Course by Royal Navy: A Campaign to Recruit Gays

Five years after Britain lifted its ban on gays in the military, the Royal Navy has begun actively encouraging them to enlist and has pledged to make life easier when they do.

The navy announced Monday that it had asked Stonewall, a group that lobbies for gay rights, to help it develop better strategies for recruiting and retaining gay men and lesbians. It said, too, that one strategy may be to advertise for recruits in gay magazines and newspapers.

Commodore Paul Docherty, director of naval life management, said the service wanted to change the atmosphere so that gays would feel comfortable working there.

"While some gays were confident to come out, others didn't feel that the environment was necessarily accepting of them," Commodore Docherty said in an interview.

The partnership with Stonewall, Commodore Docherty said, will help "make more steps toward improving the culture and attitude within the service as a whole, so gays who are still in the closet feel that much more comfortable about coming out."

Gays in Britain have benefited from a number of new laws, including one that makes it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of workers' sexuality.

Last year, Parliament passed the Civil Partnership Act, which gives marriage-style rights to British gays who have registered as couples. The entire military is subject to the legislation, and starting in the fall, gay couples in the military who have registered under the act will be allowed to apply for housing in quarters previously reserved for married couples.

The new effort continues a pattern of changing official attitudes in the navy - once derided as running on rum, sodomy and the lash, in a phrase usually attributed to Winston Churchill. And while most European militaries have lifted bans on gays, none have been as active as the Royal Navy in encouraging their service.

Until a European court ruled in 1999 that Britain's ban on gays in the military violated European human-rights laws, the navy, along with the rest of the country's military, followed a no-exceptions policy of dismissing service men and women who were found to be gay, often after long and intrusive investigations.

The military had agonized for years over the issue, in the way the United States has, and always concluded that allowing gays and lesbians to serve would prove prohibitively disruptive and would ruin discipline and cohesion.

But after the court ruling, it had no choice but to reverse its policy. Beginning in 2000, the military said gays would no longer be prohibited from serving. It also stopped monitoring its recruits' sex lives, saying that sexuality, as long as it did not intrude into the workplace, should not be an issue one way or another.

Recently, gay men and women in the British services have lived and fought in Iraq alongside heterosexuals without problems, according to military officials.

"I would say that before the European court ruling, it was difficult to see this policy happening or working," said Lt. Cmdr. Craig Jones, a gay naval officer who often speaks publicly, with the navy's approval, on gay rights issues.

"People were quite hot under the collar about it; the admirals, generals and air marshals were really concerned," he added. "I'm quite sure that these folks look now and think, 'What was all that fuss about?' "

Most European countries, including France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and Denmark, have lifted their bans on gays in the military. But Britain, and particularly the navy, has gone further, said Aaron Belkin, director of the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Read the rest, then take a shower.