BRITISH military personnel who were dismissed for being gay can now get their medals back (medals that were sometimes ripped from their uniforms in front of them) and it’s good news for obvious reasons, and good news for less obvious reasons too. What I mean is: the British Army is finally getting its act together on LGBT rights, so how about the rest of us?

It has to be said that the experiences of gay soldiers have been getting progressively better over the last 20 years. In the 1990s, RAF serviceman David Bonney had his room bugged, and he was eventually found guilty of being gay and jailed. It left him without a job, and with a criminal record, and it was reflection of the prejudice that was deep-down in the brains of the men (or mostly men) who run the army.

But, as I say, the situation improved (slowly of course, because slowly is how change happens in the services). I spoke to James Wharton, a veteran of the Blues and Royals, for example and he told me that, when he first joined in 2003, his platoon sergeant said to him: “I can’t stand faggots”. A few years later, a corporal said to him: “For a poof, you have some aggression”. And a few years after that, the army was using James as an exemplar and recruiter. From prejudice, to reluctant acceptance, to celebration. Not bad.

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In a way, the change was inevitable. James was part of a new generation, born in the late 1980s, who grew up being comfortable with difference and eventually even the frightened military brains of the British high command had to accept it. Gay soldiers like James also have a mature approach to equality, as most gay people do. Equality can include name-calling – it depends who’s saying it and how – and there’s always a difference, in the army or out of it, between banter and bullying.

But I worry that even this week’s announcement about the medals is not enough and in the context of the services it isn’t. Many of the personnel who had their medals removed also lost their pension rights, so they’re entitled to compensation. But the fact that the army has progressed so much is not necessarily a sign that the prejudice it used to promote is gone.

The problem is some of the prejudice I’m referring to is pretty deep down. Take that corporal, for example, who told James that “for a poof, you have some aggression”: one of the stereotypes about gay men is they’re not masculine, or at least not masculine in the way that values toughness and (sometimes) aggression. The thousands upon thousands of gay men who’ve served in the army are proof of how wrong that assumption is.

And there are other deep prejudices that still endure. You may have seen the news about the recent study at Surrey University that concluded some gay men face discrimination because of the sound of their voice. The author of the study, Fabio Fasoli, said “sounding gay” reflected common stereotypes about gay men. “For a man,” he said, “sounding gay implies not conforming to the norm of sounding masculine and heterosexual.”

You can see the same – and different – LGBT prejudices elsewhere. Sometimes I look at what’s said about trans people, even implying they’re child abusers, and occasionally said by people in the LGBT movement, and it reminds me of the abuse in the 1980s. Even the pretty unreconstructed Tory MP Desmond Swayne accepted the other day that he’d got it wrong when he said the lifestyle of gay men was gross and unnatural. And yet still it goes on.

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The answer is a kind of acceptance, or vigilance, or awareness that because soldiers are getting their medals back doesn’t mean everything is sorted. The bias that led to people having the medals ripped off their uniforms is the same bias that says you can spot gay people by the way they speak. It was there in the army and it was there in society and still is. At least the army’s doing something about it. As for the rest of us, we’re still a work in progress.

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