Armed forces and businesses praised for gay equality

File picture shows servicemen and women of the Royal Navy marching in London Pride. Picture: PO(Phot) Derek Wade
File picture shows servicemen and women of the Royal Navy marching in London Pride. Picture: PO(Phot) Derek Wade
Have your say

SUPPORT for lesbian, gay and bisexual employees has earned businesses and organisations a spot on the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index 2015 today.

The Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force all ranked on the index, along with the Titchfield-based Office of National Statistics.

IBM, which has its UK headquarters in North Harbour, was also named a star performer for consistently supporting lesbian, gay and bisexual workers.

The publication of this year’s equality index coincides with the 15th anniversary of the lifting of a ban on gays serving in the military.

Today, the British Army ranks 46th out of 100 top employers in the country for workplace equality, with the navy placing at 56th and the air force at 91st.

The Second Sea Lord, Vice-Admiral Sir David Steel, said: ‘My greatest pride in 36 years of service is the way in which, in a relatively short time, the culture of our workplace has changed, to embrace talent regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation.

‘In the defence of our nation none of these characteristics matter, just the dogged determination to work as a team, properly trained, properly equipped, courageous and resolved to do what is right.’

Until 1994 homosexuality in the armed forces was a criminal offence – but after a legal challenge in 1992 it was decriminalised although policy dictated that homosexuality was incompatible with service life. Personnel found to be gay were still discharged.

In 1998 a group of four ex-service personnel who had been discharged on the grounds of their sexuality took their case to the European Court of Human Rights causing an urgent review of policy. Two years later the then Defence Secretary Geoffrey Hoon announced that the ban was lifted.

Since then, the Royal Navy hosted the first LGBT conference, marched in uniform in London Pride and has become one of Stonewall’s Diversity Champions – all closely followed by the Army and RAF.

Commander Chris New, the head of the navy’s diversity and inclusion team, said: ‘I am thrilled with this result, the highest place ever achieved by the Royal Navy in the Stonewall index.

‘It shows that, in working with our partner organisations, the navy has changed its culture to become a good employer – not just for lesbian, gay and bisexual personnel but for applicants from all sections of British culture.’

The announcement of today’s equality index comes just two days after the navy marked 15 years since the lifting of the ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual personnel openly serving in the armed forces with a tri-service reception at Whitehall.

Stonewall’s index explores ten areas of employment policy and practice including employee policy, training, career development, monitoring and community engagement.

To supplement evidence submitted by employers Stonewall also seeks feedback directly from entrants’ staff.

On Monday evening personnel past and present attended at the Ministry of Defence main building in Whitehall to hear speeches from the education secretary and minister for women and equalities, Nicky Morgan, the chief executive of Stonewall Ruth Hunt, as well as the Royal Navy’s Second Sea Lord Vice-Admiral Sir David Steel regarding the change of policy 15 years ago on allowing homosexuals to openly serve.

There were also presentations and first hand accounts from servicemen and servicewomen from all three armed forces on their experiences before and after the ban.

Commander James Parkin, the navy’s speaker, said: ‘I joined up just before the ban was lifted and my personal journey has reflected that of the navy’s own journey from a vague acceptance to an active embrace.

‘It means a huge amount to me that I have got to the level that I have done in the knowledge that my sexuality has made no difference to my career progression.’

Defence secretary Michael Fallon added: ‘I’m tremendously proud of this ringing endorsement from Stonewall – our armed forces have worked tirelessly over the last 15 years to become more inclusive employers.

‘Making sure that our armed forces fully reflect our society is a key objective. And we know that a more diverse organisation is more effective – people perform better when they can be themselves. That’s why we work hard to attract and retain the most talented individuals, whatever their gender, race or sexual orientation.’