How ‘Out’ is ‘Out’? Living Lesbian Lives in the British Armed Forces Since January 2000
Dr Joan Heggie
The ban on homosexuality in the British Armed Forces was lifted on 1 January 2000 after being challenged in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The EHCR ruled that the British policy on homosexuality breached several articles of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms, in that soldiers should be entitled to the right to both privacy and to a private life, separate from military interference. In the five to six years since the ban was lifted, a Code of Social Conduct has been in place and serving lesbians have had, theoretically, the option of being open about their private life and their sexual identity without fear of prosecution or job loss. In addition, the Civil Partnership Act (2004) now means that lesbians can legally register their partnership, which will have an impact on military policy e.g. housing, next of kin, pensions and benefits.
- To explore if the behaviour of lesbians serving in the British Armed Forces changed after the lifting of the ban on homosexuality to embrace a more visible homosexual identity e.g. ‘coming out’ in the workplace; taking a partner to an official function.
- To explore if the Civil Partnership Act (2004) has influenced lesbians serving in the military to claim that status for their partner, especially in regard to next of kin, pension, housing and theatre of war exemption.
This is a qualitative research study and will be carried out in two stages:
- Stage 1 – the life grid: a four column grid which maps military service chronologically by location; rank, job and accommodation; stages of ‘coming out’; and relationship status.
- Stage 2 – face-to-face interview: using the life grid as a guide, the interview explores each participant’s own experiences of being a lesbian in the British Armed Forces.
This research is on hold until completion of the British Steel archive project.
It is anticipated that this research will offer insights into how the changes to military policy on homosexuality has impacted on lesbians’ lives. As well as being published in academic publications, the findings will be sent to the British Armed Forces to aid them in the development of future policy, equal opportunities and management training.
Together with previous research done for Joan’s PhD (2005) ‘Uniform Identity? Lesbians and the Negotiation of Gender & Sexuality in the British Army since 1950’, University of York, this research contributes to what is known about women in the British military and, in particular, about lesbian soldiers.
A University press release has helped generate interest in the research and encouraged lesbians to participate. If you are a lesbian who is serving in the British Armed Forces at the moment, or who has done in the past, please contact Joan Heggie on 01642 384478 or by E: email@example.com. Confidentiality and anonymity assured.