Re: Discrimination of LGBTQ+ armed forces personnel is an ongoing issue

Re: Discrimination of LGBTQ+ armed forces personnel is an ongoing issue

Every year, we celebrate Pride Month across the UK throughout the month of June. This is an opportunity for the LGBTQ+ community and allies to come together to commemorate past and present members of the LGBTQ+ groups and to fight for more progress socially and legally. Pride Month is usually marked by various events up and down the country, which returned in full force this year after somewhat of a hiatus over the pandemic.

As we are all aware, social and legal rights for those who define themselves under these terms is not just something that should be strived for in June alone, but throughout the year. One of the areas where culturally the UK still falls short is within the armed forces.

Not only does June mark Pride Month, but it also hosts Armed Forces Week, culminating in Armed Forces Day which this year was held on Saturday 25th June. This week was full of virtual and in person events to reflect on the sacrifices made by current and ex-service personnel in the UK.

There is, unfortunately, a strong masculine culture lingering in many sections of the armed forces. This ‘boys club’ attitude can make things difficult for those individuals who count themselves as part of the LGBTQ+ community, and the impact it has can be detrimental to the mental health and sometimes the careers of these people.

There are many areas where personnel continue to be discriminated against because of how they identify and this can have a tangible effect on how confident they feel in coming forward when they are victims of harassment, bullying or even physical injuries.

It was recently revealed in the Ministry of Defence’s annual Continuous Attitude Survey that 1 in 7 women in the armed forces have been subjected to sexual harassment. The reality is that most of these women feel that they cannot come forward and acknowledge their victimisation.

Those who have been harassed are rightly proud of their service and make it clear that they have not sought special treatment or any kind of preferment because of their sex. What they complain about is attitudes and treatment which would not be tolerated in civilian life.

The reality is that this trickles over into members of the LGBTQ+ community, who, because of fear of judgement and the masculine dominated culture, feel they cannot admit to suffering.

Sexual harassment is clearly a prominent area. However, there are certain injuries that, whilst not ‘life-threatening’ are most certainly life altering, like noise induced hearing loss, or non-freezing cold injury (commonly known as trench foot). Injuries like NFCI, if ignored, can lead to service personnel being medically discharged from the army, and in very serious cases, gangrene.

The ‘man-up’ culture throughout much of the armed forces prevents victims of physical and emotional damage from admitting their pain. This is particularly potent for those who belong to one or several of the LGBTQ+ groups, who can feel singled out because of their sexuality or personal identification,

This must be examined by the MoD and treated at the root.

Simon Ellis is a Partner, and head of the Military Team, at Hugh James Solicitors