Hey! I’m Mark, a current serving member of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. This year marks the 20th anniversary on the lifting of the ban on gay men and women serving in the British military, this article is about my experience over the last 12 years; in a career that many people still see as a job for ‘straight men’.
During my time in the Royal Marines so far, the progression that I have seen for LGBTQ+ rights and attitudes has been insane.
I’ll start way back in 2008; as a closeted 18 year old, the thought of coming out filled me with dread and anxiety! Then a couple of years later, my life changed.
Do you remember the Queens Jubilee in 2012, the one where it was raining and the entire Royal family
were in that barge on the Thames? So, we were involved with the festivities and were staying in London for a night or two. I had met up with a few of my old friends from school and this random guy spilled my drink…rude. He immediately apologised, bought me another and asked me whether I wanted his number. Now, at the time I was so incredibly naïve and did not realise the motive! Long story short, we spent the next 2.5 years together.
His friends, family and huge heart gave me the courage I needed to finally come out.
I just wanted to live my life openly, honestly and authentically without having to hide anything. My mum tried to discourage me from coming out at work and was really worried about how they would react, if I would be bullied etc. which is totally understandable. I didn’t listen to her though and decided to do it regardless!
Were there occasional homophobic comments? Did some treat me differently? Look at me differently? Of course. But for me, it was all about trying to educate them. My sexuality had nothing to do with me being able to do my job, nor did it define who I was. I’ll give you an example, which I actually found hilarious! A guy who was fairly new to my unit was given a locker in the changing room that was next to mine, lucky him! Anyway, at the time he didn’t realise that I was gay and made the following comment to a friend: “I think gay guys should have their own changing room, I don’t feel comfortable getting changed around them”. I get it – it’s infuriating. But I simply approached him and asked if he found every female attractive, to which he said ‘obviously not’. I then explained that it is the exact same and that no matter how much he thought of himself, he shouldn’t assume that all men that fancy men would find him attractive. (P.S not even a 2/10).
On one occasion one of my superiors told me not to bring a date to our Christmas party, I’m going to be honest, that one hit me hard.
These mircro-battles I fought and to some extent still do, are important. However; when I met other LGBTQ+ members of the Armed Forces I then realised how lucky I had been to have (mostly) incredible support from my peers and hierarchy.
Parts of the armed forces are riddled with toxic masculinity, there’s no refuting it and it is inescapable. Violence and aggression are two traits that are sometimes needed in the wider military, but when guys are designating manhood by using violence and aggression in attempt to belittle their peers, that’s when it becomes dangerous.
I was told a story by an openly gay, American soldier who at one stage in his career found death threats slipped underneath his door. Written on colourful post-it notes, some were derogatory terms but others were more elaborate, giving detailed descriptions of what would happen to him if he was caught alone. There was also a time when he found “Fag” spelled out in the snow on his windscreen with urine. This happened in 2011, truly horrific.
Over the last 12 years, I have seen a huge decline in such behaviour and to be honest - people are stamping it out. From the lowest level of command to the highest, that can only be celebrated.
I want to mention one particular day that will remain with me for a very long time, July 7th 2018. We made history, the Royal Marines joined London Pride March for the first time! Marching through the capital, with a crowd of over 1million people, cheering and celebrating was huge! It also hit home for me, the strength in diversity that the Royal Navy and Royal Marines demonstrated that day. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that it was my first pride event too, but it was an epic one! I have since attended Pride as a spectator and celebrated with you all so don’t judge!
The power Pride can have is encapsulated in this little story…on that day, there was one particular guy in the audience who had been considering a career in the Royal Marines for a long time but was apprehensive about joining because he was gay. Witnessing our appearance at Pride proved to him that being gay in the military isn’t something to shy away from, it is something to celebrate. It demonstrates that the armed forces are welcoming of people from all backgrounds and I’m pleased to say that he did in fact join the Marines and has since passed out of training, super proud of you T!
There is still a long way to go but I have only seen it get better for LGBTQ+ individuals in the Armed Forces. I am hugely grateful that I do not have to serve with a constant sense of fear or a paralyzing sadness that undoubtedly many gay men and women who served and died for this country must have felt, who more than likely endured abuses worse than I can know. For their sacrifice, I am eternally thankful and I’d love to dedicate this article to them.