The Royal Navy is looking to increase its gay personnel, despite fears that the move could anger traditionalists within the service.
Navy chiefs have been working to build bridges with the gay community for some time since the service’s ban on gay and lesbian recruits was lifted five years ago.
Those efforts will take a major step forward next month when the Second Sea Lord Vice-Admiral Adrian Johns addresses a conference on the benefits of recruiting more gay men and women.
The Navy has also taken out a recruitment advert in a gay and lesbian careers guide, produced by gay rights group Stonewall.
A Navy spokesman told the Western Morning News that the developments did not constitute a “gay recruitment drive”. But she acknowledged that the moves were likely to have a “knock-on effect” on the number of gay men and women signing up.
Colin Breed, MP for South East Cornwall and a Lib-Dem member of the Commons defence committee, said recruitment difficulties meant the Navy could not afford to ignore any section of the community. Mr Breed told the WMN: “It would have caused a sensation a few years ago, but I think they have found, as with women on ships, that many of the fears were unfounded. “
“Now they want to show that the forces have changed, although within the ranks it might still cause some concerns because I don’t think attitudes have moved quite as far as elsewhere. I think it’s probably something to be welcomed, particularly as recruitment is continuing to be a problem. The Navy are looking for recruits and they want to get the best people from all sections of society.”
Westcountry Naval expert Mike Critchley warned the move could backfire if parents decided the service was becoming too “gay-friendly” for their children. Mr Critchley, a former Navy officer who now edits the respected magazine Warship World, said: “My gut reaction is that while these efforts might well help them recruit ten gay people they could also put off 100 parents of 16-year-old lads and lasses who might be apprehensive.”
In 1999 servicemen and women were routinely thrown out of the military in disgrace if it was discovered they were gay. The ban was lifted in 2000 after it was ruled illegal by the European Court of Human Rights. A Navy spokesman said a person’s sexuality was now viewed as a “private matter”, although both men and women are subject to a “no-sex” rule at sea.