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July 27, 2009


Trooper James Wharton of the British Army is now the new face of gays in the military.

Nine years ago the European Court of Human Rights issued a ruling that pressured Britain and other member countries to allow openly gay men and women to serve in their militaries. This month, the July issue of the British Military's own official magazine, Soldier, featured a cover photo of openly gay Army Trooper James Wharton with the word "PRIDE" highlighted from the subdued background of the military's credo.

In the accompanying article, Wharton said that instead of being oppressed and driven to hiding as gays had been forced to do in the past (which is, sadly, still our present), gay and lesbian Army personnel are now given full support.

“I came out to the Army before I told my parents, so that says a lot for the Armed Forces,” said the 22-year-old.

“I told the Army in March 2003, after all my initial training was over – I was 18. I have always known I was gay but it wasn’t until then that I told anyone.”

In 1999, in ruling on two landmark cases, the European Court of Human Rights found that the policy of banning openly gay people from serving in the military was "not sustainable." Following that ruling, in 2000 the British military (along with other European member nations) dropped its ban and opened it doors to all gay and lesbian applicants.

2000 was also the year that George W. Bush was "installed" as President by our Supreme Court. So, of course, the ban on gays in our military was kept staunchly in place thanks in large part to the ensuing rise of religious fanaticism here.

Wharton said of our own baffling and persistant policy:

“I still can’t get my head round the US’ ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.”

“Luckily I don’t have to deal with it, but clearly there will be gay soldiers in the US Army who are not being themselves – they aren’t allowed to be.”

Granted, there have been some problems with the implementation of and adherence to the British policy but, as Wharton put it:

“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.”


“I think there is room for improvement as far as the Army is concerned because there are still people who can’t accept the changes – but it’s 1,000 times better than ten years ago.”

In fact, British military attitudes have changed so much that at last year's London Gay Pride March, gay men and women in the military were allowed to march in the parade in full military uniforms for the first time.

I wholeheartedly agree with Pennsylvania Representative Patrick Murphy, who is spearheading a bill to repeal DADT. The idea that the American armed forces would suffer morale and recruiting problems if they followed suit is incredibly partronizing. As Murphy put it, "To say that other countries' soldiers are professional enough to handle this and American soldiers aren't is really a slap in the face."

For a country that is supposed to be the shining beacon of hope for justice and equality, it's embarrassing just how far behind we are when compared to our european allies.


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