Thank you for inviting me, I am delighted to be here this evening.
I would like to take a moment to consider the fact that just 15 years ago, we wouldn’t have been at an event like this.
Because 15 years ago, being gay in the army was still considered ‘incompatible with service life.’
Of course there were and always have been LGBT people serving in the army.
Since then, thousands of gay men and women have proved day in and day out that sexuality is no barrier to serving your country.
Despite the length of time it took to finally achieve equality in the armed forces, as you have heard, it is incredible to think of the progress that has been made.
The Army and Navy featured in Stonewall’s Top 100 employers last year.
MoD itself was awarded ‘most improved’ employer, which is great news.
All three major forces marched in London Pride.
And the British Armed Forces came 2nd in a league table ranking the most LGBT-friendly militaries in the world.
And the openness of our armed forces is not only setting an example to the rest of the world, but also providing the evidence they need to show that sexuality has no impact on their ability to serve.
Coinciding with this important anniversary, the armed forces have announced that they will now collect discretionary data on just how many LGBT people serve in the forces.
This will ensure that their needs are met and that LGBT people in the army are being given the same opportunities for advancement as everyone else.
We do have a lot to be extremely proud of.
There is still some way to go, however, until we reach total parity.
A lesbian in the Armed Forces still faces the double glass ceiling of being both gay and a woman, presenting them with a whole other set of challenges.
Emma Boswell smashed both of those ceilings last year when she became the first ‘out’ submariner, and only the fourth woman in the profession.
Lifting the ban on female soldiers on the frontline will send the right message about the value of women in the army.
And quite frankly, the view that they will undermine the British Army belongs in the last century, alongside the ban on LGBT soldiers.
Transgender men and women face an even greater challenge.
Ayla Holdom, a search and rescue pilot in the RAF, was supported through her transition by her employers.
Yet the media still found it acceptable to place her in the cross hairs, for daring to embrace who she truly was.
The courage of LGBT soldiers, pilots, marines and their employers cannot be drowned out by attitudes of sexism or phobia.
Emma and Ayla provide a role model for future LGBT recruits,
And I am looking forward to hearing from Commander James Parkin, Lieutenant Colonel Rolf Kurth, and Flight Sergeant Sarah Cotman this evening.
It is so important that your stories are heard by young men and women considering a career in the forces.
Whether they’re an 18 year old school-leaver or a senior ranking officer considering a promotion,you as role models give them the peace of mind that their sexual orientation will have no bearing on their ambition.
As the Deputy Chief of Defence Staff, [Lieutenant-General] Andrew Gregory, said last year,
we want the very best people to sign up, regardless of their background.
We’ve come a long way in making real, positive changes for LGBT people, and this evening we should celebrate those successes.
But we must not become complacent.
Each of us here has a responsibility to continue advancing LGBT equality, in the barracks and beyond.