'Massive step forward': Two servicemen on military life before and after LGBTQ ban

It has been 21 years since the ban was lifted on LGBTQ people serving in the military.

Before January 12, 2000, LGBTQ personnel faced a dishonourable discharge from the Armed Forces.

Among many changes made since 2000, civil partnered couples now receive the same benefits as married couples, and since 2019 same-sex couples have been able to co-habit in all service accommodation.

In the 102 years the Royal Air Force has been operating, much has changed - both in the air and for its servicemen and women.

Carl Austin-Behan joined the RAF in 1991.

At the time, it was illegal for gay people to serve in the British military.

He had hoped to have a long career with the RAF, but one day in 1997 this dream was brought to an unexpected end.

Carl Austin-Behan in Wittering
Carl Austin-Behan.

Mr Austin-Behan was called into the admin office for a meeting with admin and the regiment officer and he was asked if he had homosexual tendencies. Speaking to Forces News in 2019 he said:

"It was that moment that changed my life.

"It came that moment that I just had to be true to myself.

"I could have just said 'no'," he explains, "but it was a life-turning point when I had to be true to myself."

Rather than answering the question, Mr Austin-Behan burst into tears and was given ten minutes to leave the military camp.

A former Lord Mayor of Manchester, Mr Austin-Beahn is now the city’s LGBTQ advisor, working to tackle inequalities.

He does not blame the military for what happened to him. He said:

"I loved the Air Force and I still do.

"It's a massive step forward from where we were.

"It gets emotional going on RAF camps and seeing how it's changed so much."

'No fanfare', 'no negativity'

Corporal Owain Bridge joined the RAF in 2005 and is part of the RAF LGBT plus Freedom Network.

When Corporal Bridge came out as bi-sexual he had a very different experience to Carl.

Speaking in 2019, he said he would never able to forget the moment he came out to the RAF.

"I'll always remember it as the moment in myself I became fully liberated," he said.

"There was no fanfare, but there was no negativity either," he explains when recalling how people reacted.

Corporal Owain Bridge in front of an aircraft 280219 CREDIT BFBS
Corporal Owain Bridge has been in the RAF for 14 years.

Owain believes that thanks to the increasing acceptance of different sexual tendencies within the armed forces, people who want to join the RAF now should not feel like their sexuality or gender identity will be taken into account.

The differences in Carl’s and Owain’s experiences of the RAF is being seen by many as a positive sign for a more diverse military in the future.

You can listen to the BFBS Radio podcast 'For Queer & Country' by clicking here.

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