In a society where LGBTQ+ voices are heard louder than ever before, it’s hard to believe that just twenty years ago, there was a ‘gay ban’ within the military.
Before Wednesday 12 January 2000, when the ban was lifted, UK Armed Forces arrested, investigated, imprisoned and outed LGBTQ+ personnel.
University of Portsmouth alumnus Craig Jones MBE RN aims to find a remedy for veterans affected by the ban, with a new charity and book Fighting with Pride.
Craig studied Economic History at the University of Portsmouth and graduated in 1989. We spoke to Craig to discuss his experience and recent triumphs:
"In the last month of my final year at University of Portsmouth, I received a letter offering a commission in the Royal Navy. It was in the same month I came to realise that I was gay.
I joined in 1989 and kept my secret for 11 years. For the first six years, it was a private secret easier to conceal, as I didn’t act on it. I was part of a team, focused on work and doing some very exciting things. Although I was aware, I had nothing to hide and nothing was needed to cover my tracks.
During this time, there were some pressures. Friends would talk in the mess about their girlfriends and conquests. I shy-ed away and told a few white lies, like my imaginary girlfriend called Sandra who lived in Australia.
In 1995, I met my now-husband, Adam. Life turned from black and white to technicolour and it was a wonderful time. In turn, came some huge complications of keeping my secret. I would always have to keep one eye open.
The hardest part was when I was deployed for months on end, wives were able to fly out to husbands but Adam couldn’t. We couldn’t even talk on the phone as these were monitored on occasion.
We did find ways around it by using aliases and being cautious, but it was a burden. A burden we would hold for five years until the ban was removed. At the time it was tough, there were a few comments from team members. Gradually, colleagues came round to the idea and after twelve long months, people realised the world wasn’t going to fall in just because there was a gay Head of Operations.
This might seem hard to comprehend as today people are as proud of the service of LGBT+ members of our Armed Forces, as they are of anybody in our uniformed services. The servicemen and women are welcomed in their ships, squadrons and regiments, valued for their unique contribution, and their careers thrive. They fly fighter jets, command warships and submarines, and lead infantry units. They serve wherever our uniform is seen, their voices heard not with a whimper, but with a roar.
They are defined by their military service, not their sexuality. They are part of a team which is respected throughout the world. Our nation is promised that they need not ask, we will be there for them. Today, thankfully, we recognise the broadest and most inclusive interpretation of ‘family’.
The ‘gay ban’ was an extraordinary breach of the Armed Forces Covenant by service chiefs, the impact of which was felt by thousands of our dearest and best. Perhaps most difficult to understand is how contra the ban was to the respect and freedoms that our Armed Forces uphold. At first, people were bewildered by the change and now, in the modern age, the LGBTQ+ community are emphatically welcomed and supported.
The anthology ‘Fighting With Pride’ records a history which is so at odds with where we find ourselves today. To many people, the fact that the Armed Forces had a 40-year war with their gay community might today be forgotten. Social change has leapt forward at a pace which leaves the past in a fog, the origin and journey lost in the warmth of today’s welcome. I wanted to raise awareness.
When we look back on what has changed since it has been remarkable. The Armed Forces are now seen as one of the best employers in the world for LGBTQ+ people; however, there has been nothing to support the community before. This support needs to be inclusive of those within the LGBTQ+ community who served under the ban.
We are pushing on the right door for organisations to recognise their duty and change. We want those who were affected in the past to be recompensed for their awful experiences."