Gay Veteran Recalls: Prince Harry Stood Up for Me to a Group of Bullies

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday January 13, 2020

Now that Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, and his wife, Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, are set to carry out their own private "Rexit" and leave England for a quieter life away from the front lines of the royal family, the nation seems to be in a mood to celebrate and even lionize him.

One way in which Harry has distinguished himself is through his military service. While others on the world stage may have evaded time in uniform - excused from military service even in wartime thanks to, say, "bone spurs" - Harry insisted on not only doing military service but also be included in the deployment that sent his regiment to Afghanistan in 2006.

Harry was deployed a second time in 2012, having competed for helicopter training and been promoted to the rank of Captain in the meantime.

And while certain other prominent personages on the world stage may have shown a less than respectful demeanor toward those who have honorably served - by, for instance, mocking war heroes or insulting Gold Star families - Harry easily integrated himself into the ranks of his fellow servicemembers and did not hesitate to stand up for them as and when it might be necessary to do so.

That included gay soldiers, which were allowed to serve openly in Britain starting in 2000. Eight years later - by which time openly LGBTQ troops might have been expected to be an unremarkable part of Britain's overall military - Harry was serving with an openly gay soldier named James Wharton.

Wharton, as Forces Network recalled, was on the cover of 'Soldier' magazine - the first out servicemember to be so featured.

But to a few of Wharton's comrades in arms, the fact that he could shoot straight mattered less than the fact that he was not straight.

Wharton recalled an incident in 2008 when, he said, "I'd got myself into a bit of a situation with some soldiers from another regiment and, essentially, they didn't like the fact I was gay."

Wharton described the encounter as one that included "chest-poking" and other conduct that left him feeling "uncomfortable." When, following this episode, he climbed into his tank, where Prince Harry was working, the young royal took note of his discomfiture and asked him what was wrong.

"I told him that there were a couple of soldiers outside who weren't very happy with the fact I was gay," Wharton related to the publication.

Saying that Harry was "Quite offended" at the soldiers' conduct, the veteran described how Harry climbed out of the tank and confronted them over their treatment of Wharton.

"He told them off and they left me alone," Wharton said.

The episode was seemingly part and parcel of Harry's ability to be at one with the men with whom he served. Wharton recalled how Harry's camaraderie was not forced, but rather a matter of his being "one of us."

Which is, of course, what brave LGBTQ men, women, and gender-nonconforming patriots in the services have always been, themselves.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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