As the Royal Marines join the Pride in London parade for the first time, service personnel speak to PinkNews about LGBT inclusivity in the Armed Forces.
The British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force have all taken part in Pride festivities for a decade, showing their support for equality for LGBT servicepeople.
At Saturday’s Pride in London parade, members of the elite Royal Marines joined the other service personnel for the first time.
PinkNews met with service personnel from the Royal Navy and Royal Marines at London’s HMS President base, as they prepared to march in the city’s Pride parade.
Lt Col Aldeiy Alderson has led calls for the Marines to be more LGBT-inclusive.
He told PinkNews: “I joined in 1996 when it was illegal to be anything other than heterosexual [in the armed forces]. You were actively hunted, at the cost of nearly £10 million per year. Since then we’ve come a long way.
“I’ve played a small part in the Royal Marines being more comfortable in talking about some of the issues surrounding LGBT+.”
He added: “The Marines are a pretty egalitarian employer – I just think we can be a little more open about how comfortable we are. I’m here today to make a point that if middle management can be comfortable marching at Pride, others can be more open at work perhaps.”
The Colonel last year wrote a column encouraging the Marines to be more inclusive – provoking a reaction and some national press coverage.
He added that while some people “called me up and said, ‘you’re absolutely wrong, this is not where the Royal Marines needs to be going’, he also received messages from “some people I’ve never met who said, ‘thank you for doing this’.”
Of the Marines marching at Pride, he said: “I think it demonstrates a couple of really strong messages: all are equal and all are welcome, whatever your perceived minority status.
“Secondly, if you want to join the armed forces, you should look forward to fair pay, fair treatment, strong leadership, and honest and transparent rules that you might not find in every walk of life.”
Marine Mike Johnson, said: “I think it’s a great opportunity to be involved in stuff like this.”
He added: “I haven’t marched before because, like most Royal Marines, I’ve been busy deployed on operations when Pride takes place.
“I’ve done a tour of Afghanistan, and been deployed on multiple exercises. I know a few other marines who would like to join Pride this weekend who won’t be able to because they are deployed away and working hard.”
For Petty Officer Samantha Kimberley-Hauff, who is based at Navy Command Headquarters in Portsmouth, being able to march and be out and proud in uniform is especially poignant.
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She explains: “When I joined, I didn’t come out straight away, I didn’t say I was gay – people used to talk to me and make the assumption that I had a boyfriend, and I just went along with it.
“I really wanted to tell people, I don’t have a boyfriend, I have a girlfriend, but I didn’t know where to start with that. Over the next couple years things started to evolve a lot more in the service, and one day, someone asked me if I had a boyfriend and I said ‘no, I have a girlfriend!’ I was waiting for this reaction that just didn’t happen!”
Kimberley-Hauff met her partner of six years, Ellie, in the Navy – and they finally got married last year.
She added: “We met at a sports weekend that was happening… I kind of saw her, and that was it! I said to my friend ‘who’s that?’ and six and a half years later, here we are.”
“When I told everyone I was getting married, my initial thought was ‘how is everyone going to react?’ It didn’t matter. We’ve been completely welcomed, embraced by everybody, embraced by the Navy. I love taking her to Mess dinners as my wife, and everyone’s just great.”
She said: “Pride to me means inclusive, all of us together showing unity, it’s awareness. My wife’s here today and she’s also taking part in the parade, so for us that’s great, that we can be here together, letting people know – look, it’s OK!”
Petty Officer Sam Quinn, 23, said: “This is my first London Pride – it’s my first time marching in uniform.
“It’s showcasing the Navy as an inclusive employer. Everybody is welcome to serve regardless of their gender identity of sexual orientation – we’re happy for everybody to serve as they are.
“I am proud to be able to serve openly in the Royal Navy because we believe being yourself is important. I hope our taking part sends a message to other people that it’s okay to join the armed forces or to come out.”