Monday, February 21, 2005

Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash

...was what First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill described as the glorious traditions of the Royal Navy. Well, unlike our dimwitted services, thanks to the new European constitution, the Navy of Nelson and St. Vincent and Beatty and Cunningham is busy working with a prominent British gay organization to recruit and retain gay sailors.

...the navy will today cast off centuries of repression and inhibition by seeking Stonewall's advice on the recruitment and retention of gay and lesbian sailors. In a transformation likened by activists to turning round a supertanker, the navy will pay the pressure group for advice on curbing prejudice and ensuring gay personnel have equal rights to housing, benefits and pensions.

Despite the persistent swirl of sexual rumour around some of Britain's most celebrated war heroes, homosexuality remained the last taboo in the armed forces until 2000, when the government was forced by the European court of human rights to withdraw its ban on homosexuality in the military. Then, Stonewall was the sworn enemy of many admirals and air marshals for taking the case of sacked gay servicemen to the European courts. Openly gay soldiers and sailors have since seen active service in Iraq, but relatively few of the estimated 2,100 gay and lesbian sailors have felt sufficiently relaxed to come out since the ban was lifted. A spokesman for the navy accepted that pockets of prejudice remained and that there was "room for improvement" but said it was "committed to establishing a culture and climate where people can discuss their sexual orientation without risk of abuse or intimidation".

The partnership with Stonewall "will help the lesbians and gays within the Royal Navy be more comfortable and honest about their sexuality if they wish to", said the spokesman. "But no one has to reveal their sexual orientation in the armed services. It's an entirely private matter."

I shall go put up my White Ensign in celebration.

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