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ONE OF STONEWALL’S TOP LGBT EMPLOYERS, THE ARMY IS DEDICATED TO ENSURING THAT ITS LGBT PERSONNEL FULFIULL THEIR POTENTIAL IN A SUUPORTIVE AND ENCOURAGING ENVIRONMENT

In January 2015 the head of the Army, General Sir Nicholas Parker, spoke about the need to secure the widest possible talent for the Army of the future by ensuring that the Army has a career structure in which everyone can fulfil their potential, and a culture where everyone can thrive, regardless of ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.

The Army has come a long way since 2000 when the ban on homosexual personnel serving was lifted and in 2015 the Army was recognised by Stonewall as a Top 50 employer of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Personnel.

The progress from total exclusion to recognised inclusion has been attributed to the leadership provided by the Army’s LGBT Champion, Lieutenant General James Everard, and the role of the Army’s LGBT forum. General Everard is a visible and vocal ally to the Army’s LGBT personnel and, as a senior leader, he ensures that they are supported and encouraged to thrive throughout the organisation.

The LGBT forum, under the leadership of Warrant Officer Class Two Karen Styles, is proactive in holding the Army to account for its policies and practices and, by championing inclusive leadership, improving the lived experience for all.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL JAMES EVERARD CBE IS THE ARMY’S CURRENT COMMANDER LAND FORCES. HE IS A PASSIONATE ADVOCATE OF DIVERSITY AND HAS BEEN PATRON OF THE ARMY’S LGBT FORUM SINCE 2010

You joined the Army in 1983. What was the situation like for LGBT personnel back then and what was the justification given for the ban on openly gay personnel?
When I joined the Army in 1983 lesbian and gay officers and soldiers lived in the shadows. Homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK in 1967, yet it remained an offence in the Armed Forces. Why? There was certainly a fear of the unknown. And no-one in authority was prepared to put their head above the parapet for the tricky causes of sexual orientation and inclusiveness. The organisation simply failed to challenge the view that homosexuality would reduce operational effectiveness and recruiting. And so these individuals lived in fear of exposure and humiliation, a recipe for unhappiness and an easy target for the bully. Not a good place to be.

The ban was lifted in 2000. Were there any negative feelings, or fears that the change would have an adverse effect on morale in the armed forces?

Thanks to the courage of a small band of determined men and women, and the excellent work of Stonewall, the ban was lifted in 2000. And we discovered that all those fears were unfounded and the siren voices rapidly evaporated. I do not remember an earthquake as the policy changed, but simply a sigh of collective relief that the dark ages were behind and that the inclusiveness journey could now start for the Army. This journey continues today as we (and I would flag up the role played by the LGBT Forum, but also recognise the part played by the chain of command) have worked to promote an environment in which our LGBT community feels supported and valued – and achieve all that they set out to achieve in uniform. After a hesitant start as we put our policies in place and changed attitudes I think we have done well. Coming out must always be a matter of personal choice, but more men and women now have the confidence to do so.

What words of advice would you give an LGBT person in the Army considering coming out?

What would I say to someone considering coming out? Look at those who have gone before you. They are living their lives with a joy and freedom that they find empowering and it is good to see.

On a personal note, as Patron of the Army LGBT Forum, what has been your proudest achievement?

As Patron of the LGBT Forum life is simple. I am in their corner. I will fight for our cause. I will demonstrate support with my time and my energy. I will act as a straight ally and provide leadership as and when it is needed. I do fear that when we discuss leadership we too often leap to talking about the exceptional warrior-monk or extraordinary soldier-scholar. Interesting, even informative, but not that helpful because we all need to be leaders in the Army today. And the work that we are now doing on developing a Leadership Code based on transactional and transformational leadership will help to ensure that we are all coached to live by the Army values and standards. This will be a step forward.

I am proud that the Army has done so well in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, with an upward trajectory that we will work hard to sustain. But I am prouder to see the list of LGBT role models growing. Long may it continue as a metric for success. 

Major Rob Ridley and Captain Hannah Winterbourne, two prominent members of the Army’s LGBT forum, talk to Pride Life about their experiences of being out in today’s Army. For more information on the Army’s LGBT forum go to: armylgbt.org.uk

MAJOR ROB RIDLEY

Major Rob Ridley joined the Territorial Army whilst reading Civil and Coastal Engineering. After two years as a railway Site Engineer he joined the Regular Army, commissioning in to the Royal Engineers in 2002, two years after the restrictions on lesbian, gay and bisexual military service were lifted.

Rob’s career as an engineering officer has been typically diverse. Initially delivering engineering on combat operations, he led artisan teams in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Germany, Canada, Cyprus and Jordan. Qualifying as a Bomb Disposal Officer, he has been responsible for coordinating Bomb Disposal teams in the UK, Kenya and Afghanistan.

Deploying to Iraq, he was responsible for management of an engineering team, over one hundred strong, who successfully conducted projects in support of local governance and sustainability of the Southern Iraqi marsh lands.

Whilst reading a second engineering degree, he was seconded to the Australian construction industry, first to a major jetty construction project, then a railway tunnel design team, after which he qualified as a Chartered Civil Engineer. He now provides military engineering consultancy across the Ministry of Defence.

Rob’s experience of coming out in a very close knit organisation has been refreshingly positive. Realising that his soldiers suspected, and were unconcerned, Rob started coming out whilst serving in Germany. “Started” as, continually moving upwards, military personnel effectively come out every few years.

“It gets easier every time,” he says. “The response has been overwhelmingly relaxed and, especially amongst younger personnel, curious.”

Rob has even been told that being a gay officer has made his fellow officers slightly “cooler”!

He strongly believes that inclusive teams enable personnel to live authentically, not dedicating effort to hiding aspects of their identity, which maximises their performance: “On military operations inclusive leadership is not simply the right thing to do; it can be a matter of life or death.”

Rob is also Vice Chair of the Army LGBT Forum, an active employee network for LGBT soldiers and diversity allies. Led by soldiers and officers from across the Regular and Reserve Army, the Forum advises Army Headquarters staff and commanders on the lived experience of LGBT soldiers, supporting the development of inclusive policy, and provides advice, support and mentoring for LGBT personnel. Rob’s personal aim for the Forum is to see it run out of work, as it will signal that the LGBT personnel are fully understood and accepted. “There’s still work to do, no employer can claim their diversity and inclusion journey is complete, but the Army understands where it stands and is in many cases, naturally, leading the way.”

Proud of the revolution in attitudes towards diversity in the Army, especially in the fifteen years that gay service has been allowed, he believes: “It used to be that soldiers would stay in the closet on joining for fear it would harm their careers. Encouragingly for our future, particularly amongst junior personnel, being open about sexuality and gender identity is seen more and more as a question of authentic leadership and integrity.”

Rob’s advice to LGBT personnel is: “If in doubt, come out, you are a better soldier when you are comfortable being yourself.”

CAPTAIN HANNAH WINTERBOURNE

 Hannah decided to join the British Army at an early age. She was sponsored by the Army to attend Newcastle University, where she read Electronic Engineering before commissioning from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst into the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) in 2010.

In 2013 she came out to her chain of command as a transgender woman and began her transition process from male to female.

In the first five years of her career Hannah has experienced a diverse range of jobs and roles, enjoying postings both in Germany and England. As a REME Officer she has been responsible for groups of soldiers providing maintenance and repair for the Army’s equipment, most recently as second in command of a Coy of over 80 soldiers. She has deployed overseas to Afghanistan, Canada and Kenya, providing equipment support in austere and demanding environments.

Hannah’s experience of coming out in the Army and conducting her transition has been overwhelmingly positive.

Hannah-British-Army

She cites the success of her transition on two key aspects;

“From a work context my transition has been easy. Firstly, the Army has had a policy for dealing with transgender soldiers since 1999. It is a simple, clear policy that explains the support to the individual, those around them and the organisation they work for. Secondly, the Army is a people-based organisation. It cares about its people, because its people are what makes it one of the best armies in the world. From my superior’s point of view, if it was important to me, then it was important to them.”

Her transition in work surprised many soldiers, but after a couple of weeks of interest and adjusting to the new pronouns (Ma’am, she, her etc.) it became old news, and life resumed as normal.

“As an officer I have responsibilities to my soldiers and as long as I continue to meet those responsibilities I will maintain their respect. The fact that I’m trans isn’t a factor; first and foremost I am a soldier.”

In addition to her normal job, Hannah has taken up the role of Transgender Representative for the Army LGBT Form, in which she provides personal advice and support to other serving transgender personnel, conducts training and myth-busting events for Army units and advises the Army senior hierarchy on transgender policies, making sure they are fit for purpose.

Outside of the Army she conducts role model interactions with Mermaids, a charity that exists to support gender variant children, teens and their families.

“Mermaids is a charity that is very close to my heart, a fantastic organisation that provides life-saving support to extremely vulnerable people. They do this on a voluntary basis and I have witnessed first hand the positive impact they have had on people’s lives.”

 

For more information on Mermaids, go to: www.mermaidsuk.org.uk.