A soldier has spoken of her passion for supporting LGBTQ+ personnel and promoting inclusivity within the military.
W02 Deborah Penny joined the British Army as a teenager in 1982 and completed many operational deployments around the world before coming out in 2004 and transitioning a few years later.
"I've been a soldier now since I was 16. I've seen a lot of changes and I am still proud to wear the uniform, to still be involved with things like the LGBTQ+ forum."
Speaking to broadcaster Amy Casey at BFBS, the Forces Station, Deborah was keen to encourage others to express themselves and not bottle up their feelings. As part of her new job with the Army Engagement Group, Deborah speaks to groups of soldiers to explain how the Army has changed. She said:
"We might not be perfect but we're working on it and trying to improve the life of a soldier.
"We're trying to get the right people into the right jobs which is where the networks come in and where they're able to support and signpost soldiers, so they get the right help when they need it."
LISTEN: Hear more from WO2 Deborah Penny's chat with Amy Casey
Deborah's personal journey while transitioning was not without "hiccups", but she did feel supported by chain of command and the LGBTQ+ Network and hopes others will feel reassured that support is out there for them. She said:
"I was quite lucky because I was part of 11 EOD Regiment, as it was at the time and because it wasn't a frontline combat unit per se I think I got a lot more help.
"Plus, I met some good friends along the way because I joined the Army LGBTQ+ Network and without their help, I think it would have been a lot more of a rocky road."
The soldier was fortunate enough to have a good relationship with a mental health officer and medical officer, so things were relatively easier for her than others she has spoken to. She said:
"Since then, I've tried to help where I can, tried to signpost, tried to give advice, tried to be seen as a role model for people who aren't visible and want to come out."
Deborah credits Army forums for being there when she needed support the most. She felt free to ask any question and knew there were people willing to give her advice. There were even people there just to listen to her concerns. She said:
"If I was having a bad day, they would give me a shoulder to cry on, to offer advice to the chain of command, mental health – all that sort of stuff.
"Somebody there will be able to answer that question for you. It won't go ignored – that's the good thing about the Army today."
Deborah speaks proudly of the fact that the Army has become an equal opportunity employer. In 2020, it ranked 82nd in the Stonewall list of top 100 employers to "achieve acceptance without exception for all LGBT people." She said:
"I want to be able to explain to people, it's not the way it was, we have moved on so much.
"We'll never be perfect but we're trying to get as close to perfect as we can."
As she explains, the Army must represent the society it recruits from. It boils down to operational effectiveness. The more diverse the Army, the better it will be.
The experienced soldier is keen to encourage other soldiers to be honest to the chain of command and, most importantly, themselves. If you have a problem, speak to somebody, don't bottle it up. She said:
"It's just going to fester and you're not going to give 100 per cent to the Army.
"It's just going to mull around in your brain and you're not going to be able to concentrate."