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Duncan

Queerability Poodcast:
EPISODE 10: IT'S ALL THAT DRAG & TOPSIE 

Duncan was born in 1959 and grew up on the Isle of Wight before moving to Brighton.

Following his studies as an opera singer at the Royal College of Music and Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, Duncan began his career as a naval rating; a radio operator. He was quickly promoted to officer, mainly serving in Type 21 Frigates and Type 42 Destroyers. He was noticed early on having assumed the duties from someone three ranks senior at no notice and leading his department during operational sea training for which he was awarded a commendation. He then was second in command of the survey ship HMS BULLDOG before becoming Admiral’s Secretary to the Flag Officer Plymouth where he reorganised the Headquarters creating the model for all military HQs. He was heavily involved with the initial studies which resulted in women being able to enjoy full career opportunities in the Armed Forces and he also instigated changes having reviewed discrimination experienced by people from communities in the Armed Forces which experience racism. He served in many trouble spots ranging from the Gulf, the Falklands and Northern Ireland and received a third commendation for his work as a Group Logistics Officer in the Gulf war.

In 1994 Duncan was just about to leave his ship to become Military Assistant to Prime Minister John Major when, while serving as senior officer in the destroyer HMS NEWCASTLE, he was approached by a professional blackmailer who had discovered that he was gay. Refusing this attempt Duncan immediately reported the matter to the head of the Special Investigation Branch of the Naval Police; a former subordinate. He was arrested for being gay and endured two days of interrogation about his private life. He was dismissed for six months later.

Duncan became an adviser to Rank Outsiders, a small group of ex service personnel who provided welfare and advice to those from the LGBTQ+ community who were being investigated or who had lost their military careers because of their sexuality. At that stage he was naturally private about his sexuality and would have kept it that way but for an incident to which he was asked by police to respond. A young sailor who had been interrogated over a period of three days was on the Tamar Bridge in Plymouth wanting to commit suicide. Duncan drove to Plymouth and spent four hours in the rain with the young man and eventually talked him down. It was this experience which convinced Duncan to take responsibility as a senior officer and to publicly campaign for change. He became chair of Rank Outsiders. He led the campaign to end the ban on ‘gays in the military’ including being a leading test case at the European Court of Human Rights. He led the evidence given to the Defence Select Committee and was a regular contributor to the national and international debate that the subject caused.

Following his dismissal Duncan became Deputy Director and Finance Director of the Human Rights group Liberty, then CEO of the largest firm of Human Rights Solicitors in the country before becoming Deputy Director General of the Advertising Standards Authority. When the European Court of Human Rights ruled in his favour Duncan returned to sea commanding specialist ships such as icebreakers, survey ships and ocean-going salvage tugs and was promoted to Commodore in 2003.

He was instrumental in changing acts of Parliament on three occasions, in 2000 lifting of ban on lesbians and gays in the military throughout Europe, in 2016 the removal of legislation which discriminated against the lesbian and gay community in the Criminal Justice Act, and in 2017 removal of legislation discriminating against lesbians and gay people in the Merchant Navy Acts. He advised the campaign in Trinidad and Tobago to repeal anti LGBTQ laws and assisted the campaigns for both LGB military personnel and transgendered personnel in the US military. He advised the original successful campaign in 2019 to restore medals removed from LGBTQ+ personnel who had been dismissed.

In 2020 he persuaded English Heritage to review and amend their policies which discriminate against minority community members, especially from black, brown and Asian communities, in the provision of blue plaques on buildings. Several new plaques for those communities were subsequently approved that year. He advises and supports LGBTQ+ immigration groups. He remains a vocal opponent of racism.

Recently retired as a senior instructor for Easyjet where he taught Captains, First Officers, crew, new instructors and management, Duncan is now a founding Director of the new Ledward Centre which supports Brighton and Hove’s LGBTQ+ community. He also is Patron of the Davison Young Musicians Award which gives financial prizes to enable talented young people to pay for professional training. He regularly speaks to companies and groups about LGBTQ+ matters and diversity and inclusion in the UK and abroad. He is married to JL, his partner of 20 years.