'Massive Step Forward': Two Servicemen On Military Life Before And After LGBTQ Ban

In 1997 Carl Austin-Behan left the RAF due to his sexuality. Corporal Owain Bridge joined in 2005 and had a different experience.

It has been 19 years since the ban was lifted on LGBTQ people serving in the military. 

In a hangar at RAF Wittering various aircraft show some of the service's history, and in the century that the Royal Air Force has been operating much has changed.

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.

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.

Carl Austin-Behan in Wittering 280219 CREDIT BFBS
Carl Austin-Behan.

"It was that moment that changed my life," he recalls.

"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 just 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 doesn't blame the military for what happened to him: "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," he says when referring to the approach to LGBTQ+ people within the military.

'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.

He says he will not be 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."

"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.

He believes that thanks to the increasing acceptance of different sexual tendencies within the armed forces, people who join up should not feel like their sexuality or gender identity should be something to take into account when joining the RAF.

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.