Gay Naval officer faces keelhauling

Mr Gay UK contender ordered to withdraw

Richard CowellThe Navy has threatened to court martial a serving officer who is a finalist in the Mr Gay UK 2005. Richard Cowell, 25, is weapons engineer on Type-23 frigate HMS Northumberland. He's also Mr Plymouth and in the running for the UK's top gay male accolade - much to the chagrin of the Senior Service.

Cowell has been ordered to withdraw from the contest or face a keelhauling, UK tabloid the Sun reports. The paper has pulled its defence correspondent off Iraq duty to cover this most pressing of issues, apparently without effect because top Navy brass has instructed Cowell not to speak to the press.

His 18-year-old boyfriend Sean Wright, though, is not bound by military law, and declared: "The Navy say they are pro-gay but it seems that's only if you don't act it."

For its part, the Navy says it's not about gayness, stating: "It isn't appropriate for an officer to participate in any competition with a sexual theme."

Ah, that's the old nautical favourite of "find the golden rivet" well and truly consigned to walk the plank, then.

Homosexuality in the armed forces was deemed acceptable back in 2000. Prior to that, it was very seriously frowned upon, despite Winston Churchill's assertion that Britain's entire maritime tradition consisted of "rum, sodomy and the lash".

Cowell, meanwhile, is still a participant in Mr Gay UK 2005 and appears unwilling to quit. The man who wrote the Village People's In the Navy was unavailable for comment as we went to press. ®

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