Homosexuality in the British Army is being addressed in a £1.6 million ($2.1 million) advertising campaign as the top brass desperately try to revamp the image of the military.
The army has been plunged into a recruitment crisis while battling government funding cuts, which could see troop numbers plunge below 82,000. Now, millions of pounds are being spent in a bid to reach out to gay communities across Britain, who may not be joining the armed forces due to fears of stigma or rejection.
Muslim communities are also being targeted in the army’s “belonging campaign” videos, which ask: "What if I get emotional?”“Can I be gay in the army?” and "Do I have to be a superhero?”.
In one video, a gay man claims he was happy to open up about being in a homosexual relationship despite fears that he would be treated badly. He describes how he wanted to be a medic after his brother served in Afghanistan.
“I was really worried about whether I’d be accepted,” he says in the 40-second clip.
“But within days, I was more than confident about being who I was. I am not afraid to talk about having a boyfriend. I thought I would have to hide it but once you’ve done it, I thought ‘Why did I make it such a big thing for so long.’”
One serving soldier told RT UK that the campaigns are designed to keep government training contractors in jobs. He described the armed forces’ training sessions that were mandatory in the military – despite many being outdated and “unnecessary.”
“It opens with a play, in this instance actors in military uniform putting on hackneyed cliches such as a Scottish drill sergeant shouting at a soldier saying ‘ooh, you dropped out of the tab, you big queer,’” he said.
“Another one they used was a young officer cracking onto a female corporal – the scenario was a book that one lent the other one. It turned out the corporal was also a lesbian.
“There are already strict rules on relationships within the chains of command regardless of sexual orientation,” said the soldier. He described the mandatory training as "condescending shite.”
Surveys carried out in the forces have been criticized by soldiers who claim the questions are designed to give the appearance of problems. For example, one bullying survey asks if anyone has ever had someone be mean to them once. An affirmative response is counted as an instance of bullying.
The army has launched the advertisements to demonstrate that it can “emotionally and physically” support recruits from all backgrounds. The radio, TV and online ads seek to address concerns that prospective soldiers might have about issues, including religion or sexuality.
In September 1999, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found that the armed forces had breached the human rights of LGBT personnel by firing them after discovering their sexuality.
Prior to the action, the Armed Forces Policy and Guidelines on Homosexuality claimed a homosexual lifestyle was “incompatible” with military life “because of the close physical conditions in which personnel often have to live and work, and also because homosexual behavior can cause offense, polarize relationships, induce ill-discipline and damage morale and unit effectiveness.”