Deafening cheers from a million-strong crowd followed sailors and Royal Marines as they showed their support for the LGBT+ community at Pride in London today.
The streets of the capital were awash with colour and costumes as members of the UK armed forces and Ministry of Defence civilians joined the community celebration in their finest ceremonial uniforms.
Dozens of sailors and marines marched proudly past some of London’s most iconic landmarks, to send a message that the Naval Service welcomes all talent to its ranks regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
They were joined by Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt and senior naval officer Rear Admiral Jim Higham, who marched alongside the military contingent.
The celebration marks almost 20 years since the ban on LGBT+ serving in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines was lifted.
Petty Officer Michael Speedie, 33, is a submariner based at the MOD headquarters in London. He said: “Although the days of LGBT+ people being banned from serving in our nation’s armed forces are long past, it is still important for us to be here showing our support to the community.
“Gay, bi, and trans people in the UK and abroad still suffer hate crime and discrimination and we want to let people know there is no place for that within the Naval Service.
“Your sexual orientation or gender identity really has no bearing on your ability to serve in the Royal Navy or Royal Marines – it’s your individual skills as a person that matter.”
The Naval Service’s involvement in the parade was co-ordinated by Compass, the Royal Navy’s sexual orientation and gender identity network.
More than 200 members of the armed forces took part in today’s events, including reserves, civilians, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and all fighting arms of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines. They were joined by colleagues from the British Army and Royal Air Force, plus Defence civilians.
Lieutenant Amy Skinner, 35, said: “I’ve had the honour to march at Pride a number of times and always feel how much of a celebration it is.
“Pride is an opportunity to be ourselves, be together and celebrate but also show support to those across the world who are not so fortunate to be able to be free.”
While the rest of the Pride in London parade came to a halt near Trafalgar Square, the military contingent continued its march along Whitehall to salute the Cenotaph in poignant recognition of the many LGBT+ people who have served in the nation’s forces throughout history.
This year marks 52 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK, and six years since the UK voted to legalise same-sex marriage, giving same-sex couples the same legal rights as straight ones.
But more than one in three LGBT+ people in the UK report having suffered abuse because of their sexuality or gender. Homosexuality remains illegal in 72 countries and is punishable by death in eight nations.
Able Seaman Tom Mitchell, 19, from Liverpool, said: “This year was my first time marching in pride with the Royal Navy and it was an incredible experience. The atmosphere was buzzing and the crowd cheering us on makes it an incredibly special day.
“People ask us why we do it because there is more acceptance of LGBT+ people in the UK nowadays but there is still a need for it. The Royal Navy represents the people of the nation that we serve, and it’s important we show people that the Naval Service is accepting of people whether they’re gay, bi, trans, or straight.”