RAF says transgender cadets can wear uniform of either sex and advises on chest binders

British air force cadets in blue uniforms - CYbergabi/Moment
British air force cadets in blue uniforms - CYbergabi/Moment

Royal Air Force cadets can wear uniforms of either sex under diversity rules that also allow transgender boys to wear controversial chest binders.

The policy – leaked to The Daily Telegraph – lists Mermaids, under statutory inquiry by the Charity Commission, as one of the external organisations that should be used for “support and advice”.

The guidance, updated in September 2022, prevents commanders in charge of cadet squadrons from informing parents that their children are transitioning unless they are given permission to do so.

Cadets, who have begun transitioning, are “permitted to use facilities, such as toilets and ablutions” of the gender of their choosing, the policy also states.

In a foreword to the latest documents, known as Air Cadet Publication 15, Air Commodore Tony Keeling, the head of the RAF Air Cadets, said: “I expect every member… to embrace a strong understanding of diversity and inclusion… and be unafraid to discuss the lived experience of others who are different to ourselves. Together we must ensure that everyone can be comfortable in sharing their views and do not feel compelled to fit into established, but outdated, norms.”

Concern over ideology

Critics of transgender policies, such as the one adopted by the Air Cadets, have expressed their concern over an “ideology that suggests biological males can use women’s spaces”.

The policy allows the 43,000 cadets – aged 12 to 20 – to wear the uniform of their “affirmed gender” regardless of what stage they might be at while transitioning.

“If a cadet wishes to be known by a different name, different pronouns or wear different uniform then this will be facilitated to support the individual and avoid any unease or trauma,” the guidance says.

It states that “uniform should not limit inclusivity” within the Air Cadets and stresses that cadets can wear “their preferred uniform” on base and also at events that are “off unit”.

In the service, girls are issued with skirts and trousers but have to buy their own tights while boys are issued trousers. The rest of the uniform is the same.

Among organisations that should be contacted for “general support and advice”, the Air Cadets recommend speaking to Mermaids, among others. The Charity Commission announced in September 2022, one day before the cadets’ policy was circulated  internally, that it had opened a “regulatory compliance case” into Mermaids, a charity which offers support to tansgender youth.

In December 2022 the watchdog upgraded the case to a statutory inquiry. That followed an investigation by the Telegraph which disclosed that Mermaids was sending chest-flattening devices to children as young as 13 and 14 without the permission of their parents. Chest binding has been described as a form of “self-harm”.

In the Air Cadets policy, chest binders are allowed but adult volunteers are expected to watch out for transgender boys who may get into difficulty as a result. The guidance states: “For example, cadets or young people who are transgender boys with developing breasts may strap down their chests to make it less obvious, named binding.

“They can often experience a great degree of discomfort when participating in strenuous activities. If you know someone who is binding their chest, make sure that you monitor their performance carefully during particularly physical activities and hot temperatures. Binding could cause both discomfort or adversely affect breathing.”

The policy suggests volunteers could “subtly” offer those cadets “more breaks” and that if “the binding becomes a safety risk to them during an activity, ie, creating severe breathing issues, then the cadet’s participation must be stopped”.

The policy urges squadrons (there are about 1,000 in the UK) to provide “where able, gender-neutral facilities… for cadets who identify as non-binary”.

‘Leadership have over-corrected’

One insider said: “The senior leadership of the Armed Forces has recognised transgender as an issue but have massively over-corrected and ministers are not aware of what has been done in their name.

“If a child decides they are trans and tells the group instructor then that instructor is not allowed to tell their parents.”

Caroline ffiske. co-founder of Conservatives for Women, said she was alarmed that the Air cadets was “uncritically” adopting “gender ideology” and was dismayed by the glossary of terms included in the policy such as “agender, cisgender, genderfluid, non-binary, sex assigned at birth".

She said: “It is an ideology that is now doing so much harm. The ideology suggests biological males can use women's spaces, and indeed this document suggests that males can use women’s facilities ‘when they begin their transition’. What about women’s privacy and safety – and were female cadets consulted?”

She added: “This document casually explains chest binding, and talks of cross-sex hormones and surgery, with no mention of potential harms, risks, regrets. This is a youth-focused organisation. Where is their safeguarding team on this?”

An RAF Air Cadets spokesman said: “Our D&I policies place the safety of our cadets and volunteers at their very core, and are regularly reviewed to ensure they are current and treat our people with dignity and respect.

“We provide our volunteers with the latest direction, guidance and resource available to us and where this doesn’t suffice, we aim to support them centrally and find resolutions.”

The Air Cadets said the policy is regularly updated “in line with the latest government advice”. The latest policy was written after consultation with experts as well as with cadets and adult volunteers.

The list of external organisations contained in the policy is ”monitored regularly” as “recommendations become obsolete or even inappropriate over time due to changing circumstances”.