From being banned, to serving with pride – what’s it like to be LGBT+ in the Royal Navy?
The ban imposed on homosexuals serving openly in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces was lifted following a European Court of Human Rights ruling in 2000.
Since then, the Royal Navy has been leading the way in embracing diversity amongst those who serve their country around the world.
The Royal Navy was the first defence organisation to join Stonewall as a Diversity Champion in 2005 and has continued to develop ties with its LGBT+ workforce through Compass, the Royal Navy’s LGBT+ staff network.
We spoke exclusively to Compass about their experience of being out in the Royal Navy.
Commander Sam Truelove MBE
“I joined the military in 1998, while I was still questioning my own sexuality and at the time it was illegal to serve,” recalls Commander Sam Truelove MBE.
“Throughout my early years in the military I came to terms with my own sexuality as a lesbian and when I did come out, I felt relatively confident to do so.”
Having initially joined the armed forces without any formal qualifications, Sam transferred to the Royal Navy and is about to graduate from her Master’s degree.
Sam admits she initially viewed her sexuality as a barrier to career progression.
“It is remarkable how far the Royal Navy has improved over the last two decades,” she says. “I now don’t believe sexuality or gender identity adversely affects anyone’s progression in the Service.”
What’s more, today she views her sexuality as an asset.
“The fact that I am openly gay has also provided me with many opportunities, including being part of the Royal Navy Compass Network committee and leading the Naval Service contingent at last year’s Pride in London.”
Surgeon Lieutenant Commander Mike Hill
The Co-Chair of Compass, Surgeon Lieutenant Commander Mike Hill, also benefited from the Royal Navy’s support to further his career.
Joining the reserves in 2002, he went from working in a multi-national insurance company to training as a medical doctor and being deployed with the Submarine Service and the Fleet Air Arm.
“Prior to the ban being lifted, I didn’t even consider a career within the military,” explains Mike.
“Why, as a gay man, would I join an organisation that didn’t appear welcoming?”
In the car on the way to his first interview, his mother asked if he was gay.
“She was concerned that while the law may have changed to allow people who are gay to serve, attitudes wouldn’t have.”
His first interview was unsuccessful, he froze when asked by the interview panel about his “girlfriend”.
“Fortunately, I wasn’t deterred, successfully reapplied and thankfully, attitudes certainly have changed.”
Only two years after the ban was lifted, Mike experienced his first negative reaction from a colleague about his sexuality.
“I had one colleague who found out I was gay and tried to ‘out’ me, but otherwise I’ve had no issues.”
In the lead-up to Pride season, Mike is busy preparing for events across the world.
“I’m also fortunate to be representing the UK at this year’s Rome pride and have also been invited to parade with the Australian Defense Force in next year’s Sydney Mardi Gras.”
Petty Officer Engineering Technician (Communication Information System Specialist) Samantha Kimberley-Hauff
Petty Officer Engineering Technician (Communication Information System Specialist) Samantha Kimberley-Hauff says that being a lesbian has never held her back in her Royal Navy career.
“My wife Ellie, who is also a reservist, and I are fully embraced by the Naval Service and our relationship has always been treated with respect,” she explains.
“Whilst when I first joined, I did experience some unnecessary comments, things have really changed now.”
She credits the work of Equality and Diversity advisors on each ship and submarine and how they can make a tangible difference for LGBT+ people serving in the Service.
“It really is a great feeling to know you are considered the same as everyone else, but also that your talents are appreciated.”
Samantha doesn’t want anyone to think twice about signing up: “If you want a career in an organisation where you really can be you, I would not hesitate at all to recommend the Royal Navy or Royal Marines.”
Engineering Technician (Submariner) Robert Morrison
Joining the Royal Navy 14 years after the ban was lifted, Engineering Technician (Submariner) Robert Morrison’s experiences demonstrate the important strides that have since been made.
He admits that he’s never experienced any negative reactions towards his sexuality from colleagues.
“People are naturally curious and ask questions,” he says. “In an organisation where banter helps with team cohesion, there are jokes, but nothing offensive or said with malice.”
Although he joined the Royal Navy without coming to terms with his own sexuality, the supportive nature of the Service helped him on his own personal journey.
“I think it’s likely that I still wouldn’t have come to terms with my sexuality as a gay man, had I not joined and been around such support.”
Now open about his sexuality, Robert take part in important activities like marching in the Pride in London parade, attending Stonewall’s workplace conference.
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He’s even met the Prime Minister at an LGBT+ reception at 10 Downing Street.
Marine Michael Johnson
Echoing this, Michael Johnson says he too has never experienced homophobia during his time with the Royal Marines, the Royal Navy’s elite amphibious infantry.
“Those who are openly homophobic, transphobic or indeed racist or sexist are not welcome to bring their views into the Service.” he says.
“The Royal Marines are very accommodating for everyone.”
Indeed he’d encourage any LGBT+ person thinking about joining to “go for it”.
“There is lots of potential to go around the world, meet and work with many great people and do some amazing things.”
Eighteen years after the lifting of the ban on homosexuals serving in the Armed Forces, it is clear that the Royal Navy and those serving in it, have certainly evolved when it comes to their attitudes towards the LGBT+ community.
Each sailor and marine receives annual diversity training, in order to maintain the Royal Navy and Royal Marine’s inclusive ethos towards LGBT+ people.
Moreover, the Naval Service continues to support LGBT+ people on both a professional and personal journey, enabling those willing to serve in the Service to do so without prejudice or discrimination.