This essay comes from “It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living,” a collection of original essays and testimonials written to teens from celebrities, political leaders, and everyday people. This one was written by Lance Corporal James Wharton from London, England. You can purchase a copy of the book, or donate one to a local school or library, through our store at itgetsbetter.org.
“I’m twenty-three years old, and I’m an openly gay soldier in the British Army. Just over 10 years ago, gay men and women were not allowed to serve in the armed forces. In fact, in 1998 alone, 298 people were discharged from the army simply because they were gay. This figure is greater than the losses sustained the Falklands and the first Gulf War.
“With the help of Stonewall*, the ban on gay people serving in the military was lifted in 2000. For people like me, the progress that has been made in the last ten years has been truly life-changing. I can now be myself and be open about who I am, whilst doing the job I love.
“This year I celebrated my civil partnership within the barracks of the Household Calvary Mounted Regiment and was featured on the cover of the British Army’s official publication, Soldier Magazine, as an openly gay man.
“It was in 2005, at the age of eighteen, that I decided to come out. I had been in the army for two years at that point and felt ready, felt confident, to tell people the truth; I was gay. In 2007, I served in Iraq with my regiment for seven months, and whilst I was in Iraq I was able to operate more effectively because I could be myself. I didn’t have to hide who I was. I didn’t have to lie about who I was.
“The army isn’t perfect yet, and there is still room for improvement. But the British Armed Services is fully committed to making the military as gay friendly as possible, a place where everyone is able to be themselves. The Royal Navy, the British Army, and the Royal Air Force are all members of the Stonewall Diversity Champions program, where employers work with Stonewall, and each other, in order to improve the working environment for lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members.
“My experience shows that a lot can change in a very short space of time. Things can get better today if we all work together to combat homophobia in our workplaces and in our schools. You, too, can make a difference by challenging homophobic bullying at school and by encouraging your school to do the same. If the army can do it, you can do it, too. It gets better today; we can make it happen.”
*Author Note: Stonewall is a lesbian, gay, and bisexual rights organization in the United Kingdom. Now the largest gay equality organization, not only in the UK but also in Europe, it was formed in 1989 by political activists and others lobbying against Section 28 of the Local Government Act (an anti-gay amendment that has since been repealed). Although Stonewall is a lobbying organization rather than a membership organization, it has diversified into policy development for the rights of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.
Lance Corporal James Wharton joined the British Army in 2003 at the age of sixteen, having just left secondary school. On completion of his phase 1 training (basic) in North Yorkshire, James decided to join the Blues and Royals, a regiment that makes up one-half of the Household Calvary. In 2006, James began preparations for operation in the Middle East, and in 2007, deployed with the Household Calvary to Southern Iraq on a seven-month tour of duty. In 2008, James spent four months in Alberta, Canada, assisting in the training of other soldiers facing operation deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq. The following year, James returned to central London, on promotion, to carry out further ceremonial duties. James and his partner, Thomas, were united by civil partnership in 2010 and now live together in London with their dog, Pickle.