Exclusive: Fighting with Pride

The 12th January 2020 mark the 20th anniversary of the lifting of the British Armed Forces ‘gay ban’. Pen and Sword’s new release Fighting with Pride, brings together a selection of LGBTQ servicemen and women who have served in the Armed Forces since the Second World War. Their stories are profoundly moving testaments to their loyalty, their courage on the battlefield, and their unswerving sense of right and wrong.

Today on the blog we have an exclusive look at the Foreword and the 1995 Memorandum from Sir Michael Howard.  Later in the week, we will be sharing the chapter The Unsinkable by Lieutenant Commander Craig Jones MBE.

We hope you enjoy this first look at Fighting with Pride, you can order your own copy here.

Foreword by Admiral Lord West

I am honoured to have been invited to write the foreword to this groundbreaking book.

It comprises ten individual chapters, each written by a serviceman or woman who generously shares their experiences of being LGBT+ in the Armed Forces through times of intolerance and discrimination, and the subsequent changing of attitudes and legislation that have led to acceptance and equality.

Without exception, these stories are frank and revealing, and there is a deep poignancy about the double life that these individuals, and many others like them, were forced to live because of the rules and fear of discovery. There is now a new generation of LGBT+ serving men and women who know nothing of the old prejudices; their stories will be different, and my dearest wish is that they should be defined by their military service and not their gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

The world is more chaotic today than at any time during my fifty-four years of service. The dangers to our global rules-based system, which has ensured peace, security and prosperity since the Second World War, are significant and growing. The need for capable and effective Armed Forces is now greater than ever.

I know from years in command that to have a first-rate team one must recognise and use the unique talents that every member of one’s ship’s company, squadron or unit bring to the party, valuing their differences and the comradeship that binds them together. Only in that way can we enhance operational effectiveness such that we make our Armed Forces the best in the world.

History shows us that sexual orientation has no bearing on the performance of a warrior in battle; a case in point is Sir Michael Howard, a winner of the Military Cross, whose 1995 memorandum advocating change is reproduced in this book.

Let us be quite clear: over the years, indeed centuries, LGBT+ personnel have served with loyalty and distinction at every level in our Armed Forces. And yet for most of that time we did not accept the fact; we put our heads in the sand and pretended the situation did not exist.

In hindsight, it is shameful to accept that gays and lesbians were very publicly hounded and forced to end their service careers. Many were outed to their units, families and friends. In some cases, they were arrested and subjected to degrading medical examinations – leading to dismissal. When I became Naval Secretary in 1994, I was so disturbed by the treatment of individuals on the basis of an anonymous phone call, that I put a stop to the SIB conducting such investigations.

Like the paradox of Heller’s Catch 22, LGBT+ Forces personnel were classed as a threat to security because of the risk of blackmail by hostile intelligence services. Why were they at risk of blackmail? Because our system said it was wrong to be gay.

When in action, the last thing that entered my consciousness was the sexual orientation of any of my people. All I wanted to know was that they were giving of their utmost as part of my team to fight and win. I only discovered later that one of my best senior rates during our fighting in the Falklands was homosexual.

I am often told that LGBT+ personnel will be focused on being part of a ‘homosexual community’ rather than on their mates in the Forces, but I don’t believe so. They belong with equal measure within the community with which they have trained and serve, whether in a ship or submarine, air squadron, or commando or army unit.

Whilst we can understand the reasons why the Armed Forces lagged behind in terms of social change, the acceptance of LGBT+ personnel took far too long and the harsh treatment that many endured is utterly regrettable.

I am delighted with the impartiality and objectivity that proliferates today. Forgetting the benefits for military capability, it was quite simply the right thing to do.

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A memorandum submitted by Captain Professor Sir Michael Howard OM CH MC

Dear Sir,

I have asked leave to present this memorandum since I believe that I am one of the few people in this country equally familiar with the world of the ArmedForces and with that of the ‘homosexual community’. More important, I am in the fortunate position of being able to say so quite frankly.

My knowledge of the Armed Forces is based not so much on my own experience as an infantry officer fifty years ago, in a large National Service army very different from the small and highly professional services of today, as on the close relationship I have maintained with all three services in the past forty years: as an adviser on educational policy and organisation, and as a lecturer at service colleges at every level from cadet colleges to the Royal College of Defence Studies. I have also enjoyed the friendship, and the close confidence, of several generations of senior officers, some of whom indeed were my pupils at Oxford.

My knowledge of the world of homosexuals comes from inside. I am myself homosexual and enjoy the company of a wide range of homosexual friends. All are honest, honourable, hardworking and patriotic people, many of whom have achieved great distinction in their professions.

My service experience, both at first and at second-hand, makes me understand very well why homosexuals present problems to the Armed Forces. I assume that no one needs to argue that homosexuals of either sex are likely to be any less courageous, reliable and efficient at their jobs than their heterosexual colleagues; any such arguments are easily confuted by the factual record of the Second World War. Nor are homosexuals in the Armed Forces any more likely to make unwanted sexual advances to members of their own sex than are heterosexuals to the opposite. If such cases do occur they are clear breaches of military discipline and can be dealt with as such.

I suggest, therefore, that the problem arises primarily from the social unacceptability of known homosexuals in units where combat efficiency depends on a mutual understanding and comradeship of like-minded people who share common values and – it must be said – common prejudices. In groups that set a high value on ‘masculinity’ and whose life revolves, while young, around the pursuit of girls and, when older, around the problems of married life, homosexuals do not easily fit. Those who display their sexual orientations by their actions or behaviour are likely – unless they have exceptional countervailing qualities – to be ‘extruded from the herd’ whatever official policy may be on the matter. Arguments drawn from the examples of classical Greece or Sparta, or even from front-line experiences in two world wars, will cut little ice in the sergeants’ or petty officers’ mess. Commanding officers may dislike such prejudices, but they have to tolerate them. Their job is to run efficient units, not schools for politically correct behaviour. Nevertheless, if they do allow themselves to be affected by such prejudices, they may deprive them of the services of some first-rate soldiers.

A lifetime of experience has shown me, however, that homosexuals are infinitely diverse, and cannot be stereotyped. For many, their sexual inclination is the least significant element of their personalities. Homosexuals come in all different shapes and sizes. Among them are to be found large numbers of happy and respected schoolteachers, nurses, academics, administrators and indeed servicemen, able to make a unique contribution to the communities that they serve. Such people do not consider themselves to belong to the ‘homosexual community’; they belong to their own communities, whether schools, colleges, hospitals, villages, churches or, given the chance, the Armed Forces, and they can bring to them special qualities of dedication.

To arbitrarily exclude such people from the opportunity of serving in the Armed Forces is not so much unjust as contrary to the best interests of the Armed Forces themselves, especially in times of difficult recruitment. They have an enormous contribution to make. It is illogical to deny people the opportunity of serving in the Armed Forces for no other reason than that they are not attracted to the opposite sex.

People should not be penalised or punished for what they are, but for what they do. Unless the Armed Forces recognise this, their practice will be at variance, not only with that of all other organisations in this country, including the fire service and the police, but in conflict with enduring ethical values for which this country is supposed to stand and has fought several wars in this century to uphold.

Yours Faithfully,

Michael Howard

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Fighting with Pride is available to order direct from Pen and Sword Books.

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