The Army is Right To Focus on Inclusion

By Adam Wagner, Founder and Chair 10 Jan 2018

Joining the Army is often seen as one of the toughest career paths imaginable, and it’s undeniably an extremely challenging role.

It is, therefore, no surprise that some people are baffled by a new campaign which tries to address concerns potential soldiers might have about religion, sexuality, and emotional support.

The adverts, which are set to appear on radio, online and on TV, are voiced by real soldiers and try to answer questions like such as ‘what if I get emotional?’, and ‘do I have to be a superhero?’.

However, the reaction hasn’t been entirely positive, with some critics saying the Army shouldn’t be trying to be “jolly nice to people” – even if it is in the wake of a recruitment crisis.

A Severe Lack of Applicants

The Prime Minister has received a report about the ‘increasing challenge’ of finding new recruits. Image Credit: Defence Images / Flickr

Even the new advert’s critics agree The Army is struggling with a “recruitment crisis”. Similarly, a recent report for the Prime Minister by Conservative MP Mark Francois said filling the ranks was “increasingly difficult”, going on to suggest a bigger focus on black and ethnic minority inclusion in the Army, and efforts to attract far more female recruits.

So, here we have it. An ad campaign focused on inclusion, and on the Army (probably contrary to young people’s expectations) giving emotional support, welcoming Muslim recruits, and being decidedly open to people of all sexualities.

A good thing you might think? Well, some people are saying it’s “politically correct” and pandering to the “snowflake generation”.

A Landmark Case

Embed from Getty Images
However, we can never consider these things in isolation. Less than 20 years ago four gay ex-recruits brought a truly landmark human rights case. Their names were Jeanette Smith and Graham Grady from the Royal Air Force, and Duncan Lustig-Prean and John Beckett from the Royal Navy.

In the 90s, these servicemen and women – who had done nothing wrong – were each dismissed simply because they were gay. Along the way, they were subjected to awful abuse when they were ‘exposed’. What’s more, this wasn’t happening thanks to junior troops, but by the authorities investigating them.

For example, Grady was interviewed under caution by the service police. The terms ‘queen’ and ‘out and out bender’ were used. He was questioned about his homosexual partners; who they were, where they worked and even what kind of sex they had.

Smith was asked if she had ‘thought about HIV’, whether she was being ‘careful’ and if she was into ‘girlie games’ like hockey and netball. She was also asked whether she and her partner had a sexual relationship with their 16-year-old foster daughter.

Required Dismissal

Image Credit: ECHR / Council of Europe

Far from this being an appalling one-off, the policy at the time allowed – in fact, required – them to dismiss the four. They took their case to the UK courts, which sympathised, but since this was before the Human Rights Act, they couldn’t do anything about Ministry of Defence (MoD) policy.

As a last resort, the group went to the Human Rights Court in Strasbourg. They argued the ban on homosexuals breached the right to privacy and family life. They won. The court found there was no ‘convincing and weighty reason’ for such a policy. The interviews which Smith and Grady had been subjected to were particularly intrusive and offensive and could simply not be justified.

The case finally brought about a happy ending. In 1999, 298 people had been discharged from the Armed Forces just because they were gay. In January 2000, the MoD lifted its ban. Since then, gay soldiers have been welcomed, and, thanks to those four brave servicemen and women, the UK set an international example. The Army top brass told their American counterparts (when, all of 10 years later, the USA was considering lifting its own ban) that allowing people of all sexualities to serve has improved productivity

Soldiers Are Still Human Beings


Image Credit: Defence Images / Flickr

The Army has to fight wars and people in it have to be tough. But soldiers are also human beings, and should be treated equally regardless of their sexuality, religion, ethnicity or gender. It makes sense on so many levels – both practical and principle.

I haven’t served but I have represented hundreds of soldiers in my career. They are humans, doing incredibly difficult things at a very young age. It is right – and makes good recruitment sense – to focus on looking after them.

They’re not snowflakes. But they’re also not superheroes. And the story of the four soldiers I mentioned shows how far the Army has come since they used to hound out gay people, less than 20 years ago. We should encourage and support the evolution of this important institution.

Featured Image Credit: Gertrud Zach / Wikimedia Commons

About The Author

Adam Wagner Founder and Chair

Adam is the founder and Chair of EachOther. In his day job, he is a barrister specialising in human rights law and is well known for his human rights communications work on social and mainstream media. In 2010, he set up the hugely successful UK Human Rights Blog.

Adam is the founder and Chair of EachOther. In his day job, he is a barrister specialising in human rights law and is well known for his human rights communications work on social and mainstream media. In 2010, he set up the hugely successful UK Human Rights Blog.