No. 3 of #50cases.
Does being gay make you a worse soldier? That may sound like an odd question, but until fifteen years ago, the UK Armed Forces didn’t allow gay men and women to serve. It was only after a human rights case, involving four people who had been dismissed for being gay, that the Armed Forces changed its policy.
Jeannette Smith and Graham Grady were members of the Royal Air Force. Janet was a nurse and Paul was a senior clerk in Washington. Both excelled at the jobs. Then, their superiors found out they were gay. After being subjected to a series of intrusive and humiliating interviews about their personal lives, they were both dismissed in 1994.
They wanted to challenge this decision so brought a claim to the UK court. The judge strongly disagreed with the policy that gay people could not be part of the armed forces. But, he was bound by the law so the challenge had to be rejected, “with hesitation and regret”. All the court had the power to do was to ask whether the decision made by the government was irrational, which is a very difficult bar to reach. Nevertheless, it was hinted that if they took the case was taken to the European Court of Human Rights they would have more success, so that’s what they did.
The European Court said enough was enough. Jeannette and Graham’s human rights had been violated by the policy, Particularly, their right to privacy and to not be discriminated against.
This case was heard before the Human Rights Act came into force, which is why it had to be resolved in Strasbourg. Nowadays, cases like this do not have to go to the European Court to get the same protection. And, thanks to Jeannette and Graham, in 2000 the Ministry of Defence changed its policy to allow gay people to serve openly and with pride.