Soldier – the magazine of the British army – has featured a gay serviceman on its cover for the first time, honouring ten years of gay and lesbian soldiers serving openly in the army.

Trooper James Wharton, of the Household Cavalry Regiment, is shown wearing dress uniform complete with an Iraq medal. He appears on the cover next to the slogan ‘Pride’.

The magazine said it was “celebrating diversity in the British Army”.

It represents a huge advancement in the army’s policies, where just ten years ago homosexuality in the army was illegal.

This was overturned in January 2000 by the European Court of Human Rights after a two-year legal battle involving three gay men and a lesbian, who had been discharged from the Royal Navy and RAF.

In 1999 alone, 298 people were discharged from the army on the grounds of sexual orientation.

But Tpr Wharton told Soldier: “It’s 1,000 times better than ten years ago.

“Obviously there are people who are set in their ways and aren’t in favour of the changed policy, but the whole attitude is different.”

Wharton also challenged ideas of gay stereotypes, saying: “The idea of a ‘pansy’ serving in a conflict zone is a flawed one.

“I would say whoever goes on a tour to a place like Iraq can’t really be described as a pansy.”

When questioned about the US army’s continuing policy of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, he said: “I still can’t get my head round [it] . . . there will be gay soldiers in the US Army who are not being themselves.”

Since the inception of the rule 16 years ago, 12,500 members of the US army have been discharged for being gay.

While Wharton was keen to dispel notions that gay men aren’t manly, he still feels free to express himself and who he is. “I can’t be late,” he commented, “I’m off to see Britney tonight”.

Soldier magazine is out now. To read the full interview, visit soldiermagazine.co.uk