The breakthrough victory of European gay rights in Dudgeon v. United Kingdom left plenty of unfinished business, starting with the treatment of gays in the military. Indeed, only a few months after Dudgeon, the European Commission on Human Rights, in B. v. United Kingdom (1982), refused to hear the complaint of a British soldier who was terminated because of his sexual identity. The battle for gay rights in the military would need to wait a generation, until the advent of another charismatic activist, Duncan Lustig-Prean.
I met Duncan aboard a tugboat in Brighton harbor, where he now works, and sometimes sleeps; the boat was once used to smuggle Jews out of Germany. A complex and fascinating setting for a complex and fascinating man, it is the oldest salvage tug in the world, originally designed in Sweden in 1905 as an icebreaker. The cabin's walls are lined with stacks of Puccini and Mozart CDs, strapped in place by bungee cords, hinting of Duncan's past as an opera student at the Royal College of Music. Duncan bought the tug after he was drummed out of the navy for homosexuality, because he still felt a need to work at sea and the boat's wartime heroics held a special meaning for him. Both of Duncan's parents came to Britain as refugees from Hitler in 1939, his mother as a German Jewish child and his father as an anti-Nazi socialist from a long line of Austrian imperial generals. Duncan named the boat the St. David, in honor of a British patron saint, because he felt grateful to Britain for sheltering his parents. It was for that very reason that he gave up opera for the Royal Navy.
It was once whispered in navy circles that Duncan might become the youngest admiral since Nelson. His breast pocket sported one campaign medal for Northern Ireland and another for the Falklands, where he lost nineteen