How Lord Cashman Helped Lift The Military Ban On LGBTQ People

The Labour peer and a former actor has pushed for LGBTQ rights both in and outside the military throughout his career.

Lord Cashman, a Labour peer and a former actor, has pushed for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender rights both in and outside the military throughout his career. 

His rise as an instrumental figure in the fight for equality started in soap Eastenders, where he was one half of the first on-screen gay kiss, something which he says was greeted with "extreme homophobia" by the media.

In the 1980s, Britain was a nation in the middle of an AIDS crisis. Discrimination that did exist back then was compounded by the introduction of the first gay law in 100 years.

Lord Cashman recalled how he had friends who were dying and the stigma that still surrounded HIV.

He remembered how police would wear "rubber gloves" when they stormed gay clubs and bars so they "could not catch it [HIV]".

Lord Cashman said the new anti-gay law was "finally the straw that broke the camel's broke and I got up and got engaged with many others like Ian McKellen...and we campaigned to get rid of this law".

They were unsuccessful but continued to keep fighting for rights, setting up the campaign group Stonewall.

Stonewall office in London.
Stonewall office in London.

The group then set their sights on another target - overturning the ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual people serving in the Armed Forces. 

"[The military] used to say 'we'll search your records to see if you've got any Shirley Bassey or Judy Garland records and if you have that proves, as a man, you're gay'," Lord Cashman said.

Lord Cashman joined forces with Robert Ely and Elaine Chambers, who had both been dismissed from the Armed Forces because of their sexuality, to try and achieve equality.

With help from volunteer barristers and lawyers, they took their cases through the courts claiming it compromised their human rights. Evidence was even given to the Defence Select Committee.

Eventually, they reached the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg who ruled in their favour. However, it was not a straight forward one.

"There were voices within the MOD that said 'just note the judgement and continue with the ban until the Armed Forces Services Act comes up for review and then we can have a debate," Lord Cashman explained.

"I think the Armed Forces were frightened of change, I think they were frightened of managing that change, I think the Government was frightened of a kick-back in the media."

Pride 2017 (Picture: MOD).
Pride 2017 (Picture: MOD).

The next day, a discontent Lord Cashman spoke to then-Prime Minister Tony Blair .

"I said 'Prime Minister, I need 30 seconds of your time," Lord Cashman explained.

"And he went 'Michael, if you're calling me Prime Minister it has got to be a least five minutes! What's wrong?'.

"I explained 'I've been told that the judgement on Monday...we're just going to note it, we're going to continue with the ban and that is entirely wrong'.

"[Mr Blair] looked at me and said 'you're right, leave it with me'. And at 5 o'clock that afternoon, the official rang me from Downing Street and said 'you've changed Government policy'."

The ban was lifted and a new era of the Armed Forces began.

All three services now sit within Stonewall's top 100 employers.

For Lord Cashman, seeing LGBTQ+ personnel march in uniform at Pride festival proved there was progression. He said: 

"They used to have to stand there on the pavement in their uniforms... and to see them marching so proudly, proud that the complete person they are, was the same complete person serving Queen and country."