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A nurse's battle against the UK Government after she was sacked from the army for being a lesbian

The incredible true story of one woman's campaign for equality in the armed forces, after a five-month investigation into ‘unnatural conduct’ which led to her expulsion.

Following the decriminalisation of consensual homosexual sex between men in 1967, the army was one of the few remaining institutions in which ‘homosexual behaviour’ was still illegal. Elaine was questioned at length, her diaries and letters read, and her associates, past and present, interrogated in the search for evidence against her.

Having been forced out of a successful career, Elaine decided to stand up and be counted, co-founding the campaign and support group Rank Outsiders. It took a 10-year Freedom of Information battle to be granted access to documents about her case; the witch hunt against her had involved lies, face-saving, innocent parties and senior figures at the very top of the military hierarchy.

Having fought the repeal as far as the European Court of Human Rights, the MoD reacted swiftly when in 2000 the court decided that investigating a person's sexuality breaches the right to privacy. Now, all three services have, at various times, made it into Stonewall’s prestigious annual list of the Top 100 Diversity employers; they allow LGBT personnel to march in uniform at the head of Pride parades; and they host recruitment stands at Pride festivals. Rank Outsiders has been supplanted by in-house support networks. Nonetheless, the legal battle by Elaine and others for proper compensation took until 2009 – 13 long years.

The events leading up to Elaine’s initial interrogations by the Royal Military Police, and then eventually to the repeal of the ban, are described here with humour and honesty, bringing the cruelty and injustice sharply into focus. For a generation brought up with anti-discrimination laws and equal marriage, these hard-fought battles might seem like ancient history. Elaine’s story, so vividly told, reminds us that these freedoms, only recently won, must never be taken for granted.

Elaine joined the Army in 1982, aged 21, as a student nurse. After qualifying as a staff nurse, she obtained a commission, becoming a junior sister in the rank of lieutenant. Her ordeal began in 1987, after rumours about her sexuality reached the military police. After being forced to resign, she met Robert Ely, who had been discharged from the Parachute Regiment after nearly 20 years' service, and they founded Rank Outsiders, a campaign and support group, in 1991.

Since leaving the army, Elaine initially struggled to find work that could rival the prospects and camaraderie of her army career - she has had nearly 20 different jobs, mostly in nursing but also including stints at Eurostar, as a security guard at the Tower of London and briefly as a tree climbing instructor. She is currently unemployed, following a momentous decision to take her name off the nursing register after her parents suffered serious ill health. She lives in the Isle of Wight.

A fair-sized bedroom, situated on the first floor of the Officers’ Mess at the British Military Hospital (BMH), Hannover. The whole building is solid, well-built and typically army in its outward appearance. Standard issue, uniformly hideous soft furnishings, magnolia paint on every wall, identically styled wardrobes, chairs, beds and dressing tables - made of wood, functional, built to last. In the corner a large porcelain sink with the original taps, probably dating back to immediately after the Second World War, when the Luftwaffe incumbents were supplanted by British Military Hospital personnel.

The young Lance Corporal is glancing out of the only window, she seems to be deeply embarrassed and cannot return my gaze. When she notices me observing her, we both redden slightly and avert our eyes; I sense a mutual understanding, a recognition.

I look down at my hands, devoid of any adornment as I'm still in uniform - no varnish, wrist watch or jewellery allowed. Nails neatly clipped almost down to the quick, my skin dry from the constant washing and use of paper towels, my cuticles ragged and untended. I find myself idly wondering if I’ll get arthritis in old age as my knuckles are already quite big, and - a smile plays at the corner of my mouth as I recall a recent lewd remark about my fingers.

My reverie is interrupted by a gruff cough as the Regimental Sergeant Major clears his throat - he starts reading from a printed form, explaining to me that this is the ‘Notice to suspect’. My crazed imagination immediately lurches into another scene - I'm a latter day Atticus Finch, mounting an impassioned plea to a jury of my peers, my eloquent defence causing deeply ingrained, long held prejudices to crumble…

‘We’ll start now, Ma’am’.


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