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Lesbian Witch-hunt

August 25th, 2005 · Posted by Skuds in Life · No Comments · Life

It sounds like it should be a title in my What A Great Name For A Band blog, but its referring to this story from the Guardian the other day.

I am surprised that it has not attracted more comment as its quite a disgraceful tale about the lengths the RAF went to in the 1950s to root out suspected lesbians.

Of course its not telling us much that we didn’t already know about official attitudes in the 1950s, but a bit of an eye-opener to see how much effort the establishment put into tackling the ‘problem’.

There was a special investigations unit. Did they do all special investigations or did they only specialise in homosexuality? If women were suspected there would be flying visits, their belongings were searched, letters read and they were questioned. As a result women would be placed on an observation list known as the “lesbians index” which meant they would get a special screening before being posted overseas or if they applied for new jobs.

As I said, none of that was particularly surprising, but the real shock was in this line: “It is believed this was still in force in the late 1990s”. And if it was, we probably will not know until the files for the 1990s are released in 40 or 50 years.

Even putting the moral issues aside for a moment, was this really a good use of resources? Just home many staff were devoted to such special investigations units and maintaining lists? Was there nothing more important to do?

Despite the slightly depressing revelations there are a few laughs to be found in the language used in those official papers. Some of these quotes sound like they are from a Harry Enfield Cholmondley-Warner pastiche:

“This could save a naive airwoman from finding herself, however peripherally, in a lesbian situation.”

“WRAF must not become a happy hunting ground for lesbians”

Best of all was

In the 1960s a “nest of homosexuals” was discovered at the Christmas Island RAF base in the Pacific where British nuclear tests were carried out, triggering fears that men might experiment in the absence of female company.

It sounds like something out of a David Attenborough wildlife documentary doesn’t it.

What worries me is that, like racism or sexism, such attitudes are still held by many people and the only thing which has really changed is that we don’t have an environment where such things can be said openly. But you can be certain that such opinions are held privately, spoken in groups of like-minded souls, and acted on as far as they safely can be.

Maybe those special investigators could have been more usefully employed weeding out bigotry to protect naive servicewomen from being involved in a bigoted situation – “however peripherally”.

I did like that phrase “however peripherally”. I’m not sure how one can be involved peripherally in a lesbian situation. It sounds like a line from Men Behaving Badly.

(There was a follow-up in the letters page the next day.)


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