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"Your sexual orientation doesn't matter" - the Defence Forces launches its first LGBT network

Defend With Pride is a resource put in place to “support all our personnel” says Troop Commander Paul Fleming.

29771968761_2bc5b9ff00_o Source: Defence Forces

IRELAND HAS COME a long way in the last 20 years.

Probably nothing encapsulates the leaps the country has made as a society perhaps as much as its acceptance of the LGBT community – capped off by last year’s landslide Yes vote in the same-sex marriage referendum.

But that is manifesting itself in other, perhaps more unexpected places also.

The Defence Forces recently launched its LGBT network – Defend With Pride.

It’s been billed as a “resource for all personnel”. At the launch Vice Admiral Mark Mellett described Defend With Pride as a manifestation of the Forces’ ”moral duty”:

For the Defence Forces, it means better decision making, better agility, better resilience.

And to talk to Troop Commander Paul Fleming, such a network in the Irish Army makes nothing but sense.

27- year-old Westmeath native Fleming, who is gay, says the launch of the network “marks the progress of society” here.

“It comes on the back of the marriage referendum and shows the massive groundswell of support for the LGBT community here,” he told TheJournal.ie.

In ways it just confirms what we already knew.

Paul himself joined the army two years ago. Now aged 27, he came upon the Defence Forces as a career while still in UCD. Initially he had planned to teach. Having gained his commission this past January, it’s not a decision he regrets.

“This just offered me more opportunity,” he says. “No two days are the same in this job.”

He got involved with Defend With Pride last March. “A lot of the work had already been done, my role has been with drafting the publicity material and the mission statement,” he says.

29964757830_dc5504caab_o The launch of Defend With Pride. Paul Fleming is fourth from right, Mark Mellett is far left Source: Defence Forces

The network’s mission statement is: ‘a resource for all personnel, a support for all personnel, achieved  through peer support and engagement with the wider community’.

There are just over 9,000 members in Ireland’s Defence Forces. However there is no indication what proportion of those are LGBT.

In practice

So how will this new network work in practice?

“It’ll focus on three areas – support for both LGBT and Allies acting as a source for information and guidance; acting as a means to educate the Defence Forces and to help make the army an employer of choice,” Paul says.

Finally, it’s there so our own LGBT community can interact directly and via social networking and events as well.

Aside from the obvious – inclusivity and progress – he agrees that there can be unseen benefits to Defend With Pride. We suggest a strengthening of the chain of command?

“Look, well-rounded decisions come with diversity. The more diverse we are, the more operationally effective we can be. So all it can do is strengthen the chain.

I ‘m certain there are ways it can benefit our whole enterprise that we don’t yet even know about.

Fleming hopes that the establishment of Defend With Pride will lead to more of the community considering the army as a career.

“I’m sure there were probably a range of reasons why LGBT people wouldn’t have joined in the past,” he says.

But we’re here now to educate our wider personnel.
The army has always been a meritocracy. That’s how we recruit, how we promote. Defend With Pride – that should say to LGBT people: ‘if you perform to our standards then your sexual orientation doesn’t matter – we’re happy to have you.’

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