Bodmin Keep military museum holds local military history depicted through around 12,000 artefacts including weapons and battlefield letters. They have uncovered a copy of the 1961 ‘Queen’s Regulations for the Army’
‘The Queen’s Regulations for the Army’ is a handbook that was issued periodically by the War Office (later the Ministry of Defence) and given to Army officers in positions of authority. The handbook outlines regulations for Court Martial, which is a military trial. It states that a trial will be held when the accused is charged with an offence against various sections of the 1955 Army Act. Included in the list is Section 70; civil offences punishable by law.
During the first half of the 20th century, homosexual acts between men were illegal. This meant that Section 70 of the 1955 Army Act effectively banned homosexuality from the Army. Soldiers who were gay, or who expressed a queer or gender-fluid identity, would have had to hide their true selves, or they would have been dismissed and risked imprisonment. However, even after the 1967 Sexual Offences Act was passed, which partially decriminalised homosexuality in England and Wales, there was no change in Army regulation. Homosexuality was still banned and grounds for dismissal right up until the year 2000. The Armed Forces Policy from 1994 states that “homosexuality, whether male or female, is considered incompatible with service in the Armed Forces”.
In 1999 the Ministry of Defense (MoD) dismissed 298 people on the grounds of being homosexual. A legal challenge was launched by four people: Jeanette Smith, a Royal Air Force (RAF) nurse, Graeme Grady, an RAF intelligence officer, Duncan Lustig-Prean, a Lieutenant-Commander in the Navy, and John Beckett, a naval weapons engineering mechanic. Their case was supported by activist groups, Liberty and Stonewall. It was presented to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, where it was ruled that an investigation into the sexuality of someone serving in the military was a breach of their right to privacy. The MoD subsequently lifted the ban.
Since 2000, LGBTQI+ people have been free to serve openly in the British Armed Forces. In 2008, LGBTQI+ people serving in the military were encouraged to take part in London Gay Pride in their uniforms. However, the change has not been easy. James Wharton, ex-soldier, author and LGBTQI+ activist, spoke honestly about the discriminatory attitudes and bullying he faced whilst serving in the early years after the ban was lifted. Whilst we can celebrate how far we have come from the society which laid down the 1961 Army regulations, there is still progress to be made towards full acceptance.
To learn more about Bodmin Keep’s work uncovering LGBTQ military stories, visit their website Bodmin Keep