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Trailblazing transgender service in the British military

13 February 2017 by Kay

Caroline holding up her military uniform jacket

© Stephen King

Our 3rd blog post from one of our inspiring speakers from OUTing the Past: The 3rd National Festival of LGBT History conference, 25 February is Caroline Paige.

Caroline, born in Wallasey, became the first officer to transition gender in the British Armed Forces. She had already served 19 years in the RAF, on fighter aircraft and battlefield helicopters, and following her transition, completed a further 16 years.

Her fascinating talk will reveal the untold story of what it meant to be transgender in the British military before and after permissive LGBT service, the highs and the lows, in peacetime and in war. 

“I had struggled with my true gender identity since childhood, and after many years of service I could keep it a secret no longer.”

Caroline Paige in military uniformIn the latter half of the 20th century the British military barred LGBT service, on the grounds of ‘inappropriate behaviour’, ‘morale’ and ‘susceptibility to blackmail.’ In 1999 Caroline became the first officer in the British Armed Forces to transition gender whilst still serving. A year later the bar on LGB personnel was repealed. For the first time, LGBT personnel could serve their country openly, without the fear of persecution or dismissal. But acceptance didn’t mean inclusion, there was still much to do.

During her talk, Caroline will reveal many of the consequences of being LGBT in the military before permissive service was granted, and the years following her transition, which weren’t easy. Opinions within and outside the military were divided, but the negative outshouted the positive. It presented complicated challenges, and a need to prove that being transgender wasn’t a reason to be withheld from frontline operations. Years later, in Iraq and then Afghanistan, the legacy of a hostile past still revealed itself. But change always takes time, and using her success to inspire acceptance and support, to educate and advise, Caroline was at the heart of change; helping trailblaze a pathway to the open and inclusive service enjoyed by today’s LGBT personnel.

Don’t miss her talk ‘True colours: trailblazing transgender service in the British military’ at 12.15pm on Saturday 25 February as part of the free OUTing the Past: The 3rd National Festival of LGBT History conference at the Museum of Liverpool.

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