Catterick Garrison Goes Gay
By Mark Simpson
Steve thinks that being gay in his regiment isn't a problem. "There are four gay lads in my regiment," he explains, "and they don't get any hassle." But, I suggest, maybe just four gay squaddies in a 600 strong regiment might suggest that most still don't feel able to come out? "Attitudes have changed a lot, especially with the younger people. But a lot of old school people don't like it one bit. And my Regiment tends to be very traditional. We didn't have any black squaddies until about ten years ago. Now we have black officers. I think things will change a lot on the gay front once the older generation retire."
Chris is a local gay lad in his early twenties has parents who are both ex-Army. "They're very old-fashioned in their outlook," he says. "They were in the Army when homosexuality was illegal and don't like me being gay at all. But they have to put up with it!" Does he know any gay squaddies? "One or two, but most of the ones I've met have been drunken horny straight ones," he says, laughing.
Speaking of drunken straight squaddies, one of them is now dancing and twirling with Gina Tonic on the dance floor to Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." Steve comes over, grinning he says: "Like I said, Mark, attitudes really are changing!"
A little later, the same dancing squaddie walks past and puts his hand on the shoulder of another soldier I'm talking to. It's a friendly gesture that would mean nothing any other night at Louis (when it's not entirely unusual for drunken straight squaddies to snog, grope and pretend to hump one another on the dance-floor). But the soldier I'm talking to looks like he's been electrocuted, whips around and shouts: "'Ere! You've got the wrong guy mate, I'm straight!" He points emphatically to a wedding ring on his finger. The dancing squaddie then protests, briefly, his own heterosexuality, pointing to a ring on his finger. Bruised egos suitably salved, they shake hands, grinning and slapping each other on the back.
The organiser of Louis gay night, Dave Parker, 36, a Durham lad with what I can only describe as cheeky eyes, is gay himself, and has lived in Catterick Camp for ten years. "I just thought it was about time we had a gay night," he says. "Plus it will help to change attitudes as well as provide a place for gay Army people and locals to socialise. The feedback I've had has all been positive. Though I've heard that one or two have been complaining about 'bloody poofs' -- but" he laughs, "not to my face!"
Some might say that he's set himself something of a challenge. "It's a shame there were only a few lesbians and no gay male squaddies tonight," he admits, "but it will take a while for a gay night in Catterick to take off." Yes, it probably will. Dave has high hopes for next month though: everyone will be back from leave, and he's booked a male stripper. "From Down South. Wigan, I think it was," he says with a wink.
"Mind," he adds, "I should have booked one of the local Army PTi's instead. They'd probably have done it just for some free drinks. They love putting on a show, some of them. And god knows they use the tanning salon enough!"
So there you have it. Catterick Garrison: gayer than you think.
Gay night at Louis Bar, Kitchener Road, Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire, is the second Tuesday of every month.
For more from Mark Simpson, visit his website here.