The British Army is stronger because of a more positive attitude to equality and diversity, say serving and former service personnel – as they look back on the times when gay people could be ‘beaten up’ for their sexuality.
Here, Jo Mundi and Dougie Morgan discuss their experiences as part of the LGBTQ community in the British Army in a conversation about changing attitudes in the British Armed Forces.
To recognise and celebrate LGBTQ history month, we’ve been speaking to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service men and women, about their experience of being LGBTQ while serving in the British military.
To demonstrate how far the British Forces have come since the ban was lifted 19 years ago, we are sharing the stories of LGBTQ personnel and veterans.
Some of these individuals are serving openly, some have hidden their sexuality and, prior to the ban being lifted, some were forced to leave because they were found out.
Jo Mundi is the new Scotland representative for the Army’s LGBTQ forum. She took over from Dougie Morgan who spent nearly forty years in the British Army.
For a lot of that time, Dougie hid his sexuality. They recently caught up at a popular gay bar in Edinburgh to look at how much things have changed over the last forty years.
Here they reveal their own personal stories in conversation with each other.
Jo: “When I first joined the Army I can safely say I wasn’t out. Throughout my career I was never out, it’s just the odd people that knew and it wasn’t until I was in Bosnia on my first tour that I knew the ban had been lifted so I didn’t need to hide anything.”
Dougie: “I joined the most homophobic and racist regiment in the British Army in my opinion and I witnessed people who were LGBTQ and I witnessed them getting strung up, beaten and thrown out of the Army so it made me go even deeper and deeper deeper. Once I started to tell one lie, I could not go back on what I said so I just had to conform to society.
“I joined the most homophobic and racist regiment in the British Army in my opinion and I witnessed people who were LGBTQ and I witnessed them getting strung up, beaten and thrown out of the Army."
“Coming from the area in Scotland that we come from there was no way you could even mention the word gay, so I just found it very difficult. I knew inside that I was really really really hurting myself, but I just could not come out and even when the ban came up in 2000, I just could not come out because I was married then and I had children. Even today I think back and just wish I’d had the opportunity like you Jo to be honest and say ‘you know what, I am gay’ but I just could not do it in the 70s and the 80s.
“And I’ve seen such progress… and the good thing is if you be yourself you actually work a lot better, you produce better work because you’re not frightened of someone looking at your back, seeing where you’re going, seeing what you’re writing, you know, seeing who you’re going out with.
“I still come up across people who do not like LGBT people.”
Jo: “You actually get some people who come up to you and say, ‘what’s the point of you guys being in this event?’ well, we’re here to show support for equality and diversity as we’ve been doing for the last three years.”
Dougie: “You’ve had a good life Jo, in my opinion, for being LGBT. I was outed, as I said I was married and had two children. So, I dropped my guard a little bit and my son's friend saw me on one of the LGBT web pages, told my son, he told his Mum, they went and done what they needed to do and outed me. 1st December 1999, I remember it to this day and that’s when I started to lead the life that I wanted to lead.
“Don’t get me wrong it’s not been easy and I lost a lot of friends within the military and I think purely down to the telling of the lies. They say, ‘that’s a sham Dougie, you were not the person that you are now.’ I know, I’m glad I’m not the person I was then because I’m a much better person.”
Jo: “I first met Dougie at 51 Brigade in Stirling ironically. He was recruiting and I was the Discipline Clerk there. I knew Dougie, loved that person because we got on great. When through the grapevine somebody says ‘oh, do you know Dougie’s gay?’ my first reaction was ‘so’?
"I always remember to this day, that’s still Dougie. ‘No no, it’s no, no it’s no.’ Actually, it is because see what you see there and what you see to the right is still the same person, just a different sexuality. What’s that got to do with you? It’s his personal life, that’s it.
"When through the grapevine somebody says ‘oh, do you know Dougie’s gay?’ my first reaction was ‘so’?"
“They maybe put it across as, see the uniform, it’s gender neutral. You can be whoever you are as long as you can do your job.”
The conversation was recorded as part of a project to listen to the experiences of the British military’s LGBTQ community as part of LGBTQ History Month.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence, responding to the conversations, said: “The military’s greatest strength is the diversity and talent of those who serve, and we are committed to maintaining the Armed Forces’ status as an inclusive workplace for all personnel, no matter their sexual orientation."