Pride flag flying at Northern Ireland Army base 'throws tradition out the window'
A rainbow flag fluttering proudly at Palace Barracks yesterday has caused controversy and delight in equal measure.
The flag recognising the LGBT community is one of hundreds on display at military bases across the UK in support of the Pride in London festival, which ends tomorrow with a massive parade in the capital.
But one former soldier in Northern Ireland was a little surprised to see the symbol of gay rights flying on the Co Down barracks' flagpole. The veteran - who asked not to be named - said he did a double take when he saw that the regimental flag had been replaced by the LGBT emblem at the Holywood military base.
"This flagpole has only ever been used to display the regimental banner," he said.
"I don't have anything against the gay community, but this is throwing hundreds of years of tradition out of the window."
Last night a Ministry of Defence spokeswoman explained that the multicoloured flag was flying this week at all its UK bases.
"As a one-off Army initiative to coincide with Pride in London 2017 the LGBT flag has been raised across the Army estate between July 3 and 9.
"Raising the flag is intended to send a broader message of the Army's inclusive approach to all groups, regardless of preference or difference." Army sources said that the rainbow flag was being flown at all bases which had more than one flagpole.
It is understood that bases with only a single flagpole continue to fly the Union Flag, which takes precedence. John O'Doherty of the Rainbow Project, an advocate for the LGBT community in Northern Ireland, welcomed the move.
"The Ministry of Defence take diversity and inclusion very seriously, and have done for quite a number of years," Mr O'Doherty said.
"When you're talking about the armed forces you're talking about people who come from all communities and minority communities, and it's important that people who are risking their lives for the safety of everyone else have the dignity and respect that we would all expect from our country.
"They are working to ensure the safety of all of us."
Mr O'Doherty said he had not been aware of any active involvement in the past by the MoD in Pride events in Northern Ireland, but said that he recognised its engagement at a UK-wide level.
As equal opportunity employers, the UK's armed forces have taken part in many Pride events since the ban on gays and lesbians in the services was lifted 16 years ago.
The MoD is on record as saying that it "proudly encourages diversity at all levels".
Last year the Red Arrows gave a breathtaking display at the London Pride event, and the facade of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst was lit up in the colours of the rainbow flag.
The MoD says it has worked hard over the past 16 years to establish a culture and climate in the armed services where those who choose to disclose their sexual orientation and/or gender identity are able to do so without running any risk of intimidation.