RAF News

LGBT+ History Month 2022

RAF Personnel hold an LGBT+ flag.
RAF participated with the other services during the 2019 London Pride Parade.

In February, the RAF joined LGBT+ History Month celebrations.  This year the theme explored social justice and changing attitudes towards, inspired by Martin Luther King quote:

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

The quote symbolises how the strive for social justice and equality will take time with a lot to improve upon, however it is still an achievable vision for the future.  The RAF are moving towards justice along this arc, recruiting an inclusive workforce of the best people, with a range of skills and experiences from different backgrounds.

The RAF has implemented amendments to policies; offered support for the recruitment and employment of the LGBT+ community; and spread awareness on topics around gender identity.  Some significant milestones include:

  • 1999 – Flight Lieutenant Caroline Paige became first openly transgender officer in the UK Armed Forces
  • 2000 – The ban on LGB personnel serving in the military was lifted
  • 2005 – RAF couple became first same sex couple in military to have civil partnership
  • 2006 – Formation of RAF LGBT Forum to support LGBT+ personnel
  • 2007 – RAF first marched in London pride although not in uniform
  • 2008 – All 3 services march in London Pride in uniform
  • 2012 – RAF LGBT Freedom Network formed
  • 2013 – Unit rep initiative started so each RAF base has someone available to offer support and guidance on LGBT+ matters
  • 2014 – Gay marriage legalised
  • 2015 - ASPIRE was launched to raise awareness and educate Air Cadets on topics such as sexual orientation, gender identity and equality
  • 2016 - Then Air Vice-Marshall Wigston conducts first same sex marriage on British military base
  • 2019 - RAF ranked in the top 100 employers for LGBT+ equality by Stonewall
  • 2019 - Then Secretary of State for Defence Penny Mordant led the military contingent at London pride
  • 2020 - Reception at house of commons celebrating 20 years lifting of the ban
  • 2021 - First transgender recruit (reservist) completes phase 1 training
  • 2022 - Independent Review launched by the Government, into the impact the ban had on LGBT+
Red Arrows in formation over Nelson's Column and a LGBT rainbow flag.
RAF participated with the other services during the 2019 London Pride Parade.

The RAF has also formed many Diversity Networks - such as the RAF Freedom Network and RAF LGBT+ Network - to identify role models within the community, support LBGT+ personnel and family, and shape policies and raise awareness through education.

Personnel official portrait.
The RAF’s LGBT+ Deputy Advocate, Group Captain Tony Keeling, Station Commander at RAF Wittering.

There are also Charities continuing to help move the RAF along the arc to justice.  The ‘Fighting with Pride’ charity offers support for LGBT+ Veterans, service personnel and their families, who suffered as a result of the ban; including those who lost jobs, pensions, medals, and opportunities.

Main Building with rainbow colour projected on the outside.
Ministry of Defence Main Building Headquarters in London, illuminated with rainbow colours to mark 20 years since lifting the LGB military ban.

Below, some Personnel share their amazing stories and insights as we celebrated LGBT+ History Month.

"For me, back in 1990, serving in the RAF, I was one of those people. I was an Air Traffic Control Assistant; I’d only been serving for 6 months and I found myself investigated for being gay.

Someone had alerted the police to the relationship and I very nearly lost my job. I was scared, I was only just figuring out my sexuality myself and suddenly, my sex life became the talk of the station and within my family who didn’t know.

The investigation lasted a year, with me being questioned, my room being torn apart and my personal belongings taken for analysis! To keep my job, I had to lie, and doing so only instilled the feeling that it was wrong.

Having it all aired in public made me reluctant to share my personal life with anybody, including friends.

The damage to a young, questioning mind was immeasurable and lasted well into adulthood; however, I was one of the ‘lucky’ ones who managed to keep my job and pension."

Flight Lieutenant Tam Wakeham
RAF LGBT+ Network Unit Rep Lead

Personnel official portrait.
Flight Lieutenant Tam Wakeham.

"LGBT+ History Month helps me to remember that the UK is an advanced country compared to many others around the world."

Sergeant Freya Lees
RAF LGBT+ Network

Personnel stands in sandy environment.
Sergeant Freya Lees.

"I encourage people to be respectfully curious and ask questions of people; many want to share their experiences and educate others. With knowledge comes understanding and this aids inclusion.

Being an advocate for Diversity and Inclusion is about supporting those around you and having the confidence to educate people of any rank of how to phrase or conduct themselves. If in doubt treat others how you would like to be treated is a simple rule to go by."

Sergeant Lewin
Recruit Training Squadron, RAF Halton

Personnel official portrait.
Sergeant Lewin.

"My experience with the RAF and my own LGBT+ journey started at the Recruit Training Sqn (RTS) at RAF Halton. During Phase 1 of training, I first started realising I was not comfortable in the body I was in and noticed the emotions I was feeling were because of my own gender dysphoria.

At first, I was hesitant to ask for advice and support but when I did get the courage, I was advised to visit the RTS Welfare and Support unit where they helped me immensely both with my mental health and being able to continue my training. They arranged to give me access to a private showing area (instead of the communal showers) and even provided facilities for me during the deployed consolidation exercise where it was more difficult to do so.

This support carried forward to my Phase 2 training, where I was allowed grow my hair out to help me better present as my real gender.

The support I have received from the RAF and more specifically my Line Management has been very encouraging. I have now at the date of writing this changed my name and am beginning to start my medical transition to female where the medical centre has been helping me throughout."

SAC Nadia Gregory, RAF LGBT+ Network

"As a gay man who was only 2 years old when the ban was lifted in the military, I remember a time when the word 'gay' was still whispered and joked about in schools and in public - a taboo that is still present in some areas of the world today.

I'm fortunate to have my own idols in the likes of Billy Porter, Tayce, Flt Lt (Retired) Paige and Wg Cdr Abrahams today that inspire me daily and now I'm proud to say that the RAF allows me to perform within the LGBT+ community when I'm off duty."

SAC Aaron Shuriah
RAF LGBT+ Network Unit Rep, RAF High Wycombe

Personnel stands by RAF badge wall art.
SAC Aaron Shuriah.

"I am currently a Trainee Gunner and everyone on the course is very accepting of me. I cannot wait to see what other developments happen for the LGBT+ Community in the future."

SAC Christie
RAF LGBT+ Network

Personnel official portrait.
SAC Christie.

"I am proud to be part of a service that continues to grow and help those who have served and continue to serve to ensure we all feel included, valued, and heard.  There is still plenty of work that needs to be done to ensure we continue to raise awareness, be a voice for those who need it and listen to those who need to be heard. I have recently taken on the role of Secretary within the Network and want to continue the hard work, determination, and passion the team have demonstrated since being established in 2012."

Flying Officer Kerby Colgan
RAF LGBT+ Network Secretary

Personnel stands by portraits.
Flying Officer Kerby Colgan.

"As we celebrate LGBT+ History Month, I consider myself lucky to have served in the RAF during an amazing part of its history…

Yet for the first 19 years my biggest fear wasn’t dangerous missions, it was in being outed as transgender and dismissed from service, immediately losing everything and everyone I loved. The military’s ‘gay ban’ didn’t know or care about ‘LGBT+’ differences, it just exercised its cruel prejudices regardless."

Flight Lieutenant (Retired) Caroline Paige
Joint Chief Executive, Fighting with Pride

Personnel kneels with pilot helmet.
Flight Lieutenant (Retired) Caroline Paige.

"I joined the RAF in 1991 and one of my very first jobs was to complete paperwork for people being discharged from the RAF for being gay. Sadly, this was the policy back then and, even as a young airman, this felt wrong to me. I could see first-hand the terrible effect this was having on people, many of whom were still coming to terms with their sexuality. The culture at the time did not encourage junior ranks to speak out if they thought policy should be challenged; thank goodness things have changed now.

In my humble opinion, there is still work to do but I believe the policy and culture have improved significantly whereby people can be more comfortable being their true self. Personally, I feel more knowledgeable and encouraged to challenge policy if required, and to speak out if I see anything wrong. The sooner we all realise that a diverse and inclusive workforce benefits everybody the better."

Squadron Leader Stu Smith
Head of RAF Digital Communications

Personnel portrait.
Squadron Leader Stu Smith.

"When I joined when homosexuality was illegal, was definitely not talked about and meant many people had to hide who they were! That’s just wrong!  More than that, the Establishment, actively sought to remove homosexuals from the Service. This resulted in me, very early on in my career unfortunately having to throw a brilliant colleague out of the RAF just because of their sexuality – all because they had the moral courage to admit to their Boss why they could not do certain work because of a lack of a Clearance.

As such, while I recognise that we have so much more to do, LGBT+ Month for me reassures me that we are on the right path and having the right conversations. It gives me faith in the future of the RAF as a diverse community of brilliant people. It is a recognition that all people are different and that we need such inclusion to create the best teams so as to deliver well on Operations."

Air Commodore Adrian Burns
Assistant Chief Of Staff Personnel Policy

Personnel official portrait.
Air Commodore Adrian Burns.

"I joined the RAF in 2020 and from day 1 of basic training I was able to be completely open about my sexuality, this is thanks to all those who have come before that have made it possible for me to pursue my dream of being the RAF.

LGBT+ History Month to me is about reflecting on the past and looking to the future. It's about educating people on the past to make sure things don’t regress and we continue to improve. 

After arriving at my first unit, I was completely put at ease by seeing another aviator wearing a LGBT+ lanyard.  This immediately gave me added confidence that I could be myself at work and that it was accepted by all.

I've made it my mission to continue to work for the future of the LGBT+ Personnel in the Armed Forces.  As a unit rep and as a reverse mentor to a 1* Officer I can do my part to help those who may need it."

SAC Daniel Davies
RAF LGBT+ Network

Personnel stands by fence with badge.
SAC Daniel Davies.

"Upon joining the RAF, I quickly learned that one of the Cpl instructors on my Flight at the Recruit Training Squadron was gay which immediately helped me feel more included. His openness with his sexuality and the support shown to him by my intake encouraged me to open up about my own sexuality to everyone I was with at Halton.

My time in RAFAC and at RTS has helped shape the person I have become today. Having personnel around me who were ‘out’ about their sexuality and fully supported by those around them has given me the confidence to be myself and to proudly tell people: ‘Hi, my name is Will and I am a Pansexual."

SAC William Newman
RAF LGBT+ Network

Personnel stands in uniform outside by RAF sign.
SAC William Newman.