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Monday 08 November 2010


In the Navy: The real story?

Posted in: True Stories
By Jacqui Stanford - 26th June 2010

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The Navy's official policy on homosexual activity within its ranks pre-reform was tough, but it seems a fair few sailors were secretly flouting the rules and getting it on with each other, whether on land or at sea.

A gay former sailor who spoke anonymously to GayNZ.com says there was definitely gay activity onboard the Navy ships in the 80s, but it was under the radar – and most of the sex he had initially, as a younger Navy man, was back on land. He recalls his first sexual experience with a man being with a Navy colleague, a hook-up that happened onshore while they were drunk. He says they never spoke about it afterwards; he was too afraid of getting caught.

The man says as he served longer, he became aware of who was 'interested' and who could be trusted – and was able to arrange secret liaisons.

"Like anywhere that regimental at the time, you simply couldn't be openly-gay. And I didn't even think about admitting to my own sexuality for years after I left the Navy," he says.

The description of life for gay men at sea is backed up by the evidence of a man thrown out of the Navy for 'homosexual activity'. The man was at the centre of a failed compensation claim by a former Navy colleague, who says he was sexually assaulted by him onboard the HMNZS Canterbury in 1984.

The accused man spoke of "prolific homosexual activity", saying 30 to 40 of the non-commissioned naval personnel (up to the Petty Officer level) on the HMNZS Canterbury at the time were hooking up with each other. That equated to 15 to 20 percent of the crew.

The accused man had the nickname of "Betty", something which was well-known on the ship. The ruling states, "it also seems that at least some personnel viewed his mannerisms as effeminate and as potentially indicating his homosexuality."

He was thrown out of the Navy in 1985 after formal complaints were made by other men on the ship about unwanted sexual contact and 'suspected homosexual activity'. He had already been the subject of claims he had given other men blow jobs and was once caught in 'suspicious circumstances' with another man in a drying room.

The ruling also speaks of evidence of many stories told on the ship about activities ashore.

"This included stories about going to gay clubs, and of a 'saying' in the Navy, that at least some witnesses had heard of, that 'you're not a man until you have a man'."

Senior Navy officials confirmed that there were people retained in the Navy who were suspected of being homosexual. They said if there was proof (which was difficult to obtain) they would be charged and probably discharged.

The officials said that in most cases, providing they were not overt in their behaviour and as long as they did not have an adverse effect on others lives, gay members of the Navy were pretty much accepted – as to accept them was a proper approach to take to people within their ranks and for whom they were responsible.

This series will wrap up with a look at what life is like for gay and lesbian members of the Navy now – as by many accounts, acceptance and tolerance have come a long, long way since the 1980s.


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Jacqui Stanford - 26th June 2010