Air Force Enlists Stonewall For Gay Recruits

The Royal Air Force has called in a gay pressure group to help solve its recruitment crisis. The Service will take advice from Stonewall on how to make itself more attractive to homosexual and bisexual men and women, and is aiming to spend tens of thousands of pounds on advertising in the “pink” media.

As part of the initiative, the RAF will pay Stonewall an undisclosed sum to join its “Diversity Champions” programme, under which commanders have to demonstrate the Service’s commitment to implementing a range of policies to promote “lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) equality in the workplace”. The measures will include offering equal survivor pensions to same-sex couples, creating an LGB staff group and sponsoring events such as the annual Gay Pride festival.

The “contract” between the RAF and Stonewall follows 18 months of negotiations in which senior military chiefs were told that the Armed Forces were a “turn-off” to gay men and women because of the belief that they were “entrenched with gay prejudice”.

Many of the estimated 12,000 homosexual personnel in the Armed Forces have fought – and in some cases been killed – in Iraq and Afghanistan but, according to Stonewall, few if any serving gay troops feel confident enough to declare their sexuality publicly.

As part of the new undertaking, the RAF has agreed to be placed on a Workplace Equality Index, which showcases Britain’s top 100 employers for homosexual and bisexual staff. Stonewall will offer RAF personnel the chance to attend its intensive two-day professional development training exercise for “rising- lesbian and gay professionals in the workplace”.

Senior RAF officers will also receive a training package “designed to educate employers and their staff about the benefits of building an inclusive workplace environment for lesbian and gay staff”.

Homosexuality was taboo in the Armed Forces until 2000, when the Government was required by the European Court of Human Rights to lift the Armed Forces’ ban on gays.

Following the ruling, the Ministry of Defence had to pay out millions of pounds in compensation to people who had lost their jobs because of their sexuality. An estimated 36 gay men and women are still waiting for compensation for unfair dismissal.

Ben Summerskill, Stonewall’s chief executive, described the decision by the RAF to join forces with his group as “courageous”. He said: “After decades of entrenched [anti-homosexual] prejudice across the Services, it would have been almost miraculous to imagine that the day the ban was lifted in 2000 everything would be hunky dory.

“This is a courageous undertaking by the RAF. It will be an uphill struggle, but people perform better when they can be themselves and feel able to be honest with their colleagues about who they are.”

Gerald Howarth, the shadow Tory defence minister with responsibility for the RAF, said that he thought that “taxpayers would be aghast” that public money was being used to support a pressure group. “This is an extraordinary exercise in political correctness,” he said. “The idea that the homosexual community is not already aware of the opportunities in the Armed Forces is ridiculous, and to go out and specifically recruit on the grounds of a person’s sexuality seems to defeat the whole purpose of anti-discrimination legislation.”

A spokesman for the MoD said: “The Armed Forces are committed to establishing a culture and climate where those who choose to disclose their sexual orientation can do so without risk of abuse or intimidation.”