Royal Air Force Reflects on LGBT History Month

The RAF’s LGBT+ Deputy Advocate, Group Captain Tony Keeling, Station Commander at RAF Wittering, reflects on LGBT History Month:

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RAF’s LGBT+ Deputy Advocate, Group Captain Tony Keeling, Station Commander at RAF Wittering

“I continue to be a proud LGBT+ Ally and place high value in the opportunities offered through advocacy to shape thinking and influence policy.  In the last year the Royal Air Force has made significant strides in addressing a raft of issues that affect the LGBT+ community and diversity more broadly; achieving recognition as a Stonewall Top 100 Employer is indicative of the progress we have made – but as ever there is still much more to do.

As we approach the 3rd decade of the 20th Century, the value of an individual is less commonly judged by gender identity, sexual orientation, race or religion, it is rightly about what the individual does and how they contribute to organizational goals.  However, hierarchical structures such as those found in the Armed Forces do have a tendency to over-bureaucratise and stifle the voice of junior people and minority groups.  The Royal Air Force’s senior leadership is increasingly aware of these institutional barriers and is working hard to remove them, in the full understanding that creating an environment where people can be themselves and can express themselves, unlocks potential, is a catalyst for innovation, and is of huge benefit to the Service.

I look towards the LGBT+ Freedom Network and their Unit Representatives, supported by our station Equality Diversity and Inclusion Advisors, to highlight pockets of prejudice and poor behaviour such that we can tackle it together through engagement and education – understanding the lived experience of our LGBT+ colleagues is a powerful tonic.

LGBT History Month is a time to celebrate individual differences and to re-energise organizational focus towards the advancement of inclusion.  It is also a time to reflect on what more we in the privileged position of command can do to support the LGBT+ Community, regardless of whether those individuals are part of the Whole Force or within Service families.  I again challenge everyone to think deeply about the mandatory Diversity and Inclusion objective in your annual reports – how are you going to bring that objective to life to make a positive change for our LGBT+ friends, colleagues and family members, which in turn realises their potential for the betterment of the Royal Air Force.”

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The joint MOD & QinetiQ base at Boscombe Down, Wilts, marked LGBT History Month by flying the Rainbow Flag during the month of February.  It also hosted a Diversity & Inclusivity Conference with the aim of increasing the understanding of the challenges faced by LGBT+ personnel and highlighting the ongoing work of allies and ambassadors across the Whole Force to promote inclusivity.

Project Officer, Squadron Leader Catherine Lawson, Co-Chair of the RAF LGBT+ Freedom Network, said:

‘The case for inclusion, for any protected class, is unequivocal – if we want the RAF to thrive then we have to create the conditions for our personnel to thrive.  When people are empowered to be themselves they simply become the best version of themselves and the RAF wants the best version of each of its personnel.

The LGBT+ Freedom Network is a volunteer support organisation that provides peer support to serving LGBT+ personnel and their families.  It also provides a platform for education, both internally and externally, in the spirit of influencing positive change"

The Conference featured an insight into QinetiQ’s inclusive approach to diversity and offered personal reflections on life in the RAF from members of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender communities.  Over 100 personnel from all three uniformed Services, QinetiQ and the Civil Service attended. Major themes throughout the Conference centred around the importance of positive inclusion in the workplace, thoughtful use of language and the benefits of encouraging all personnel to be the best version of themselves that they can be.

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The Key Note speaker was Flt Lt (Ret’d) Caroline Paige who, 20 years ago, became the first transgender officer to be supported in serving openly in the UK Armed Forces.  Caroline Paige gave a candid account of her journey and reflected on how some of society’s perceptions have changed over the last two decades.  Her story has also been recorded for LGBT History Month as “Caroline Paige On Track With Forces Radio BFBS” and it is scheduled to air on Saturday 2 Mar 19 at 1300 hrs GMT and Sunday 4 Mar 19 at 1900 hrs GMT.

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