This deeply personal book reveals to its audience a sordid piece of modern history that few know about regarding the ban on any LGBT people openly serving within the UK Armed Forces. This ban impacted the lives of countless people who were willing to serve their country with honour. Those who supported the ban felt that homosexual tendencies would lead to an erosion of discipline, a frankly outdated and almost puritan point of view in this century. Nevertheless, many younger than myself do not realise the ramifications of Section 28, brought in by Thatcher’s conservative government in 1988 (within my lifetime) the main aim of which was to ensure that local authorities (including all schools) “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” which undeniably had an effect in ensuring that this ban was not lifted sooner. In fact, many prominent members of the Conservative party spoke vehemently against the lifting of the ban
This ban was not lifted until 2000. Chambers describes the journey leading up to this momentous occasion with great clarity and understanding. While we often remember historic moments in our history, it can be far too easy to forget the work which led up it. Although we are now fortunate enough to finally be moving forward, the long and far reaching impact of such legislation still has an impact on today’s society and certainly had an impact on those enforcing laws such as these within the Armed Forces.
Having come from a Military family myself; my mother an officer within the WRNS, my father a P.O within the Royal Navy and my Stepfather, a Captain in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (interestingly the only branch of the Armed Forces which did not enforce this ruling). I have been made well aware of the very real and devastating impact this ban had, forcing humiliating and highly invasive investigations and, of course, unemployment, on the marginalised who were unfortunate enough to have come under scrutiny. Chambers’ recollections of these events proved difficult reading material and was of the ilk that made one feel rather ashamed, rather than proud of, one’s country.
Regardless, Chambers’ fight for recognition and eventual success alongside many others in overturning the ban, thanks largely to the European Court of Human Rights, sparks a sense of pride in how far we’ve come this century. It is perhaps surprising then, that she does not share this sentiment herself. There is, on occasion, sentiments of bitterness and resentment. This is understandable, considering the plight she went through, but nonetheless, she has achieved a lot in her continual fight to support those who went through similar processes to herself, and to support those who both wish to serve their country as well as live openly and should be proud of her accomplishments.
Chambers recounts her personal story with astonishing candour. Her unreservedness does see the book flit back and forth through different periods within her life, and I often had to refer back to previous chapters to understand the multiple threads that weaved through the story. Her story was at times either very formal in the explanation of military life, and then at times, very informal, discussing family and personal life alongside. Perhaps this is how Chambers felt she had to move through life, feeling at once like two very different people, one who had to hide true parts of herself, and one who didn’t. It is even possible, that there are two stories to tell here, although I am grateful that she has shared hers with us, as it is a story that needs to be told.
© NL Elliot 2019
This Queer Angel is available from Unbound. Buy Now