Podium: The Fight for Equality within the Armed Forces

Article excerpt

Krishnan Guru-Murthy

From a speech given by the journalist and broadcaster to the Ministry of Defence conference `Strength Through Diversity'

THE ARMED forces have declared war on discrimination. I hope we can all start agreeing that equality of opportunity is a fundamental aspiration of this country and a goal worth fighting for. But declaring war is not enough; the armed forces must go out there and take the fight to the people.

If Britain's ethnic minorities want equality, we have incumbent on us a moral duty to embrace all sections of life and work. We cannot enjoy the democratic freedoms and economic opportunities without contributing to everything that guarantees them.

The armed forces recognise that, if ethnic minorities are to join them, they must have the right to equality. And they recognise that they must convince the ethnic minorities that they are taking steps to guarantee it. Most important, they have recognised the need for leadership. It has been the key development of the last two years. The Chief of Defence Staff, all the service chiefs and senior officers have recognised that it is up to the leaders to make this happen. We are here to talk about equal opportunities and we must also talk about another key area that the armed forces are about to have thrust upon them - the question of gays in the military.

For decades now, the armed forces have used the justification of defending operational effectiveness and morale to keep homosexuals out. It was, incidentally, the same excuse the Americans used to give for keeping black and white soldiers segregated in the Second World War. Of course, the policy has not worked. There are homosexuals who currently serve in the armed forces, and there always have been. Statistically there must be hundreds, if not thousands.

But until now, when discovered gay soldiers have been expelled. The European Court of Human Rights has put a stop to that. It was, said the ruling, wrong to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. The Ministry of Defence has said it accepts the judgment of the court, and before long we can expect the Government to lift the ban on homosexuals serving in the armed forces. …