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Celebrating 15 years: Gays have made UK Army, Navy and RAF a ‘better fighting force’

Celebrating 15 years: Gays have made UK Army, Navy and RAF a ‘better fighting force’

A top admiral in Britain’s Royal Navy has said the diversity of the force – including its LGBTI sailors – is the thing he takes greatest pride in as he approaches retirement.

He was hosting an event tonight (12 January) to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the lifting of the ban on gay, lesbian and bisexual people in the UK armed forces.

Second Sea Lord Admiral Sir David Steel told invited guests at the event in the Ministry of Defence, Whitehall, central London he had been reflecting on 36 years in uniform.

He said: ‘I could highlight improved weapon systems, better equipment overall, or the advance of technology.

‘My greatest pride, however, is reserved for the way in which, in a relatively short time, the culture of our work place has changed, to embrace talent regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation.

‘In the defense 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.

‘Your armed forces are not only representatives of the society they come from but are exemplars of that society.’

He recalled how before there were ‘interrogations and witch-hunts’ of gay forces personnel. Now there are just men and women ‘willing to risk their lives for their country’ making them more effective in defending Britain.

‘The anniversary we celebrate tonight stands out for me as one where boldness and determination to be inclusive has not only improved the life of so many who wear the uniforms of our Armed Forces but has thereby improved our first and foremost output, the delivery of operational capability and thereby the defense of our nation, Commonwealth and allies,’ Steel said.

The reception was not just a Navy affair with the Royal Air Force, Army and Marines also out in force.

Personnel past and present attended to hear speeches from the Education Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, Nicky Morgan MP, and the chief executive of Stonewall, Ruth Hunt.

Flight Sergeant Sarah Cotman, an openly lesbian RAF nurse, said: ‘What I really like is now you meet people in the service who weren’t aware it was illegal 15 years ago. They don’t even consider it was ever an issue. That proves how far we have come.’