Meet Sergeant Alastair Smith-Weston, a member of Second Battalion, The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, who married in 2002 and had four children with his wife. After the relationship broke down, he came out as gay and – in 2016 – tied the knot in the first same-sex marriage held on a military base. Alastair – who is a single parent to his son whilst his daughters live with their mother – tells us about his army family…
“But dad, you’re gay! You’re supposed to like shopping!” I don’t know who had a more stunned look, me or the woman stood nearby. I guess this is what me and my family take for normal – parents are parents! I love my children and they love me – I hope. I’m their best friend and their worst enemy; a bank, a taxi, a dresser and a fashion critic.
What makes more of a difference to us as a family is my time in the army, more so than my sexuality. Sometimes it’s easier coming out as gay than it is telling people I’m a soldier. Civilian society knows more about sexuality and gender than they do about the army. Civilian knowledge of the army’s values is outdated and understanding is skewed by Hollywood.
Whilst 2020 marks the 20th anniversary of the lifting of the ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual personnel serving, it also highlights changes in the army’s understanding of a soldier’s whole family unit. The army has worked tirelessly to support and evolve its care to the family as much as it has the soldier.
The only difference I face as a gay parent is making people aware. I’m not overly precious about forms or paperwork asking for information about ‘wife’ or ‘mother’, I just make my unit and my welfare chain aware so if I do encounter homophobia or unjust treatment, they understand my circumstances and can address them.
As a gay soldier and single parent, within my unit I often find myself used as a point of contact to advise and steer welfare chains. I work as the army LGBT forum’s diverse families lead, so I have all the up-to-date information on policy and agencies that can support any unique needs.
When my children were younger and I was still married to their mother, we coped well. My unit always had a robust and active welfare chain that supported families.
When I became a single parent to my son, he was ‘semi-domesticated’ and was a great pasta chef! We coped as best as we could – I was lucky that we had family nearby to provide support when my son needed it – or when the pasta ran out!
We spent three years in Cyprus and I found that harder than my son did. Trying to work and run a house in the heat was a challenge. Going shopping with his friends and taking sneaky trips to Napa as a 15-year-old was a lot easier for him! My daughters missed me and I couldn’t visit them as often. The rise in mobile communications and online banking has helped – and I can now become the ‘bank of dad’ and a tech expert all with a simple text or FaceTime!
I once heard the phrase ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. I didn’t realise how true that was until I started a high-intensity role within my unit. If my son needed picking up, the offers of help from other families were a great relief.
I would say to others, never be afraid to talk about yourselves and your challenges as a family. The army wants to be able to help you to be your true self and a happy family unit, and the people around you want to know how they can help and support you. If there’s anything you’re struggling with, your unit will always be willing to help, and I’m here as an experienced wannabe diverse families’ expert.
You can follow the army’s LGBT forum on Twitter @ArmyLGBT
Do you and your loved ones want to share what makes up your army family? Send your details to firstname.lastname@example.org / #OurArmyFamily
Main photo: Alastair and Private Denice Webb (AGC) during filming for PinkNews’ LGBT History Month last year.