WINDSOR, U.K. – With respect to the official acceptance of gay soldiers in the military, Britain has opened up a decided lead over America, which remains stubbornly committed to policies that all but scream divisiveness and inequality.
This month, for the first time in its history, the cover of Soldier, the British Army’s official publication, will feature an openly gay trooper in uniform, with the word “Pride” highlighted.
The United Kingdom was not always so tolerant, to say the least. A mere nine years ago, gays were banned from the military, subject to discharge if outed, and routinely subjected to interrogations by commanding officers if reported by other soldiers, who were expected to inform on their colleagues.
All that changed in January 200, reports the Independent, “after a two year legal battle involving three gay men and a lesbian, who had been discharged from the Royal Navy and RAF after being found to be gay.
The case was ultimately decided by the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled that the military’s policy was unsustainable.
“Overnight service personnel who had been expected to inform on anyone they suspected of being gay were told they must now respect the rights of their colleagues,” the paper reports. “Men and women who had lived in fear of being followed by the SIB (Special Investigation Branch), enduring degrading interrogations and searches, were told they could freely talk of their sexual orientation. In the army alone, 298 personnel had been discharged in 1999 for their sexuality.”
Nine years later, during which time the Bush Administration all but codified its own intolerant policy toward gays in the military, there seems to be at least a glimmer of hope that the brass are interested in change, according to the Independent.
“…Senior officers from the US have been quietly holding talks with their British counterparts on how America can change its “don’t ask, don’t tell” police which has seen more than 12,500 members discharged since its inception 16 years ago.”
As promising as that seems for those who want a more open military, the U.S. military would have to experience an almost impossible to envision change of heart to even begin to approach the level of acceptance of gays in the military that has taken hold in the U.K.
Indeed, the July issue of Soldier magazine doesn’t just feature 22-year old gay Trooper James Wharton, based at Combermere Barracks in Windsor, on its cover; it also contains a feature story on Equal Partners, on diversity on the modern British army, and a sub-feature on “Mrs and Mrs,” a same-sex married couple who are also a medical team in the military.
It is not exactly easy to imagine any of the U.S. military’s publications doing anything similar anytime soon.