This Queer Angel
By Elaine Chambers
A nurse's battle against the UK Government after she was sacked from the army for being a lesbian
Publication date: March 2019Buy
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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’.
- 30th December 2019 Another end of a beginning...8th December 2019 Season’s grovellings!17th July 2019 The strange passage of time...
Having waited for what felt like forever, May 7th 2019, World Book Day, saw the publication of my first book! And YOU made this long-held dream a surreal and mildly terrifying truth.
As that day got closer, I began to fret a bit - what if it disappointed everyone? Had I focussed too much on the personal, not enough on the actual history of the ban and its dispatch to the dustbin? What if it doesn…14th March 2019 We did it!
And I’m still grinning from ear to ear, somewhat stunned...
For anyone still awaiting paperbacks, they should mostly be sent by now but anyone who pledged for a signed copy has slightly longer to wait. This is due to Sod’s law, as I was unexpectedly up in London just two ickle days before publication day. Very annoying, because it would have been the ideal time to go to Unbound’s office and get…7th March 2019 We only went and did it! On WORLD BOOK DAY!!!25th February 2019 Ta dah - cover reveal!
I just love the delicious madness of having a camouflage cover that could never be hidden anywhere! This’ll be hard to miss on a book carousel...and the first reviews have been so incredibly encouraging...publication date to be revealed here very soon!11th February 2019 Roll up! Roll up! Last chance to pledge!
OMG, as the yoof might exclaim - the 17th February 2019, yes, THIS year....sees the closing date to pledge support and get your name in the book! So, please do let any friends, family, colleagues, complete strangers, sworn enemies know that they need to join you gorgeously discerning peeps in getting this flipping book out there! I can’t quite believe it...as soon as I know any more, you’ll hear it…24th December 2018 What’s another year?
It’s a crazy measure of time that sees a slow creep forward to publication!
Rather than waffle on, I just wanted to say a huge thank you for your support and patience - I’ve literally just got home from work then typically ‘Last-Minute Lainey’ shopping, in readiness for two days off, woo hoo!
Wishing you all the love and happiness you can handle and looking forward to 2019!
Season’s Greetings…25th November 2018 Slowly...but surely....
It’s been a while, but only because I didn’t want to make yet another ‘nothing to update’ update...
The lengthy process is I think partly due to Unbound being a victim of its own success, with simply so many great books needing the attention of only one paperback book editor...
The legal read through was of course vitally important, but there were a few to-ings and fro-ings between us as I fought…8th October 2018 Holidays?! How very dare they!
Dearest patient pledgers, firstly the solicitor attempting to mitigate the risk of being sued for libel had the temerity (only kidding!) to take a break bang in the middle of the summer, then, would you believe it? Xander, the paperback editor in dire need of cloning to meet the needs of his ever-expanding tally of prospective authors, is currently vacationing...
BUT - the cover is progressing…18th July 2018 Dad did lose the will to live...
...But we mustn’t, despite the fact that this process seems to be going slower and slower as time lumbers on...I wish I could bring joyous news of a definite date of publication but alas not yet...there are belt and braces, i dotting and t crossing measures needed to ensure neither Unbound nor I end up in court, facing charges of defamation of character/libel! My thought that no one in their right…11th June 2018 Are there medals for ‘Patience in the face of Editing?’
How sick must you all be? Every update contains a grovelling apology for the ever-lengthening time it’s taking for TQA to be born...the latest delay is due to the complex nature of the concerns thrown up by the legal read through...BUT, this belt and braces, dotted and crossed I’s and T’s approach is essential if we (Unbound and yours truly) want to avoid finding ourselves in court! Having already…28th February 2018 And I thought battling the MOD took time...
Just wanted to let you know that I popped into the Unbound office yesterday, as part of a flying visit up to my ole home town, lovely London - I brought a few old photos to be scanned in case we can include a few in the book. Good for a laugh if nowt else - I'd love to be that slim and fresh-faced again! Great to properly meet Xander and catch up with Georgia and Mathew too - talked…6th December 2017 PS
I wish I could offer a prize, but all I can do is to apologise for the typos in my most recent update - more haste, less speed might be the maxim for me. Is it a maxim? That'll be the next error...anyways, I HATE typos - I recently 'designed' some A5 flyers on the Vistaprint site and once 5000 lovely glossy items arrived, yes, that's right - not only a bloody typo, but a factual inaccuracy date-wise…4th December 2017 Season’s Greetings!
This is somewhat overdue, so as usual, an apology is in order - I have been very busy in my non-writing life though, some of you will know the saga of Dad’s stroke and the fact that I’m living in a house that was bought after we sold our family home in Harrow to relocate to the Isle of Wight.
Alas, this house now has to be sold to keep paying his Nursing Home fees, so I’ve been rather preoccupied…31st October 2017 A giant step closer!
Wow! The decision to convert to paperback is reaping its rewards- TQA is now fully funded! Thank you SO much for believing in this project, your support means the world to me and I’m just beyond grateful to you for playing your part in helping me realise this dream.
It’s a wee bit scary too, because I’m frantically trying to tidy and tweak the final draft before sending it to Xander, the paperback…11th October 2017 The more we change, the more we stay the same...or do we?
Before I get to the point of this important update, I want to reiterate how incredibly thankful I am to all of you - knowing you are interested in reading my crazy story is genuinely humbling, terrifying and fabulous in equal measure!
Many of you will know I’ve been trying very hard to find those elusive potential ‘Patron’ pledges that would take a gert big bite out of my percentage total - well…3rd October 2017 Blimey! I was on ‘yap’ mode for this one! Only watch if you want to be sent to sleep! Sorry folks!18th September 2017 Less an update...
...more of an enquiry...
So, many of my fellow Unbound authors offer 'extras' to encourage pledges or 'upgrades'...when I attended the crowdfunding workshop, I half jokingly commented that all I could do would be to offer tuition in how to make the perfect salute, or maybe teach some bandaging or aseptic dressing techniques!
So, my question is this - what might encourage you to upgrade your…15th August 2017 A challenge!
When I started out with this crowdfunding malarkey, I knew it would be a tough call to raise enough money to get this book published. But it didn't matter. The excitement and elation of having found a publisher who thought the story worthy of telling, well, that was simply incredible.
And now I've had more than 300 people who have also thought Unbound's belief in my story isn't misplaced. That…28th July 2017 An Update...17th July 2017 My mojo's back!
After a bit of a summertime wilt, post French holiday, I'm finally getting back into the swing of things. Saturday saw the inaugural Isle of Wight Pride Festival sell out its 5000 tickets, it was very inspiring indeed. I got to march with Peter Tatchell, who put out a very complimentary tweet about me, so I can but hope that may engender some more pledges. This week I've been asked to step in for…
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