Those you served in the British Military 20 years ago had to face terrible consequences. Because of the LGBTQ ban, members of the armed forces still have terrifying memories from those days.
Back then being LGBTQ meant losing your job. It also meant losing your home, your medals and respect of your colleagues who had become like a family. People used to talk a lot in the homophobic language. It was quite common and unchallenged. There were many LGBTQ+ servicemen who lived in the fear that one day they would be targetted as well. There was a suspicious comment that the Special Investigation Branch (SIB) might start uncovering closeted LGBTQ people.
People from the British Military share their memories.
There was a time when the SIB would raid civilian houses. They would go through one’s belongings open sealed letters. All this to find any evidence of homosexuality. Any warning as such would leave people terrified.
Mandy and Sherry McBlain.
“It’s horrible. It’s a horrible, horrible feeling,” remembered Mandy McBain.
Mandy McBain a lesbian ex-Navy lieutenant commander now works for the Stonewall explained that it was a horrible feeling. In 1991, she found herself under the spotlight of the Special Investigation Branch. Moreover, this had happened before the ban was lifted. She had to lie to clear her name. Eventually, she was deemed straight enough and was allowed to continue serving. But she was still in the fear of being outdated. “I chose not to [go to sea] because I couldn’t stand the thought of living in a ship 24/7 in a very small, confined area with people who would perhaps have suspicions about my sexuality,” she said. “It probably did have an effect on my career.”
Moreover, Sherry McBain, Mandy’s wife was a nurse in the Royal Air Force. Avoiding the SIB was becoming a part of their lives. They shared experiences where the landlady would give them a sign like giving a funny nod when she recognized any SIB. As soon as they were alerted they would have to exit through the back door. And they had to run as fast as they could. This was how most of their nights were. There were times where Sherry would have to smuggle into the boots of her friend’s car while entering the base.
Sergeant Alastair Smith-Weston.
“I was very fearful of losing my job”
Sergent Alastair Smith-Weston was a Royal regiment of the Princess of Wales. He is now an openly gay man who is immensely proud of serving in the military. But when he first joined it was a whole other story.
What was hard for Weston was that he was living two different lives. He could not be truly himself. He had a work-life and home life. And he was unable to open up. He had a fear of losing his job. As he did not know how the process would happen. He was aware of all the individuals that suddenly disappeared from work on the day. And all he heard as rumors of homosexuality and investigation.
Weston had no choice of coking out. He went through great lengths to hide his sexuality. In doing so, he even married a woman and bore her children. He never regretted the opportunity to become a father. But he did regret not having to tell the close people around him about his sexuality.
“To hide my identity from myself was quite painful,” he admitted. “I’d finally found a group of people that I believed in, that I trusted. I’d found my new family. But I always felt only half of myself to not be able to tell them.”
The ban had made life terrifying for many. And the effects of which are long-lasting.
2000 brought about a huge change for LGBTQ.
The ban on LGB people was lifted in 2000. This bought about a huge change for the British Military. Thanks to the ruling from the European Court of Human Rights, the ban was lifted. And a new era of equality and inclusion came in. The government formally apologized to the LGB ban for the first time. They also added that it was unacceptable then and it is unacceptable now.
Today there has been a huge change in the British Military. The British Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines were all ranked among Stonewall’s top employers for LGBT+ people.
The change happened fairly quickly. And it could have only happened because of strong, empowered leaders. Jamie Carahar, chair of the army’s LGBT+ forum said that the push for inclusion was a natural step. As in hinges one of the military’s core values- respect.
From the perspective of those who served during the ban, the future looks bright. Even though the memories still were bitter. Things are starting to change for the British Military.