Rishi Sunak apologises for 'horrific abuse, bullying and harassment' of UK's LGBT veterans

19 July 2023, 13:47 | Updated: 19 July 2023, 14:13

PM apologises for 'horrific' historic treatment of LGBT people in military

By Kit Heren

Rishi Sunak has apologised for the "horrific" treatment of LGBT veterans of the UK's armed forces.

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It was illegal to be gay in the army, navy and air force until 2000 - which the Prime Minister called an "appalling failure" of the British state.

Thousands of members of the armed forces were affected. Many men and women were kicked out, and some arrested and even imprisoned for being gay, an inquiry into the treatment of LGBT veterans between 1967 and 2000 reported on Wednesday.

Mr Sunak told MPs: "Many endured the most horrific sex abuse and violence, homophobic bullying and harassment all while bravely serving this country.

"Today on behalf of the British state I apologise."

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Rishi Sunak has apologised to LGBT veterans for their treatment during their time in the armed forces
Rishi Sunak has apologised to LGBT veterans for their treatment during their time in the armed forces. Picture: Alamy

He added: "I hope all those affected will be able to feel proud parts of the veteran community that has done so much to keep our country safe."

LGBT veteran Chris Dodds said she felt guilty for hiding her identity during her time in the armed forces.

"If you came out as, as gay, then you wouldn't have had a military service," she told LBC.

"Your career would've ended literally within days, administratively discharged... Your housing, your employment, your social network, you know, where do you go after that?"

Members of the armed forces attend Brighton & Hove Pride
Members of the armed forces attend Brighton & Hove Pride. Picture: Alamy

Ms Dodds said: "I know many people that that has happened to, I lived a lie, benefited from that lie in, in many ways, and had a successful career, whereas many, many people that were not in that situation had dreadful things happen to them.

"And their lives after they left the military and the impact that's had on their friends, family, social situation, mental health is appalling really."

She added: "I'm sat here in a different position because I wasn't prepared to be honest, really... So I do have a lot of guilt with that."

Matt Lindley, a former pilot who said he was "closeted" during his time in the RAF, hailed the apology, but called the treatment of LGBT personnel "inhumane, cruel and discriminatory."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said his party was "proud to repeal the ban" on LGBT personnel serving in the forces when it was in office.

He said: "Today, we strongly welcome this apology from the Prime Minister as a recognition of their historic mistreatment."

In a written statement to Parliament, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the review received "shocking and emotive" testimonies - 1,128 in total - and he hopes the apology "will be the start of them receiving long overdue acknowledgement".

Lord Etherton's report, which was published on Wednesday, found that many LGBT veterans were subjected to invasive medical examinations, faced police investigations and were sent to prison for their sexuality in some cases - as recently as 1996.

Pride In London Parade London
Pride In London Parade London. Picture: Getty

Many still have a criminal record now, although all LGBT veterans can apply to have their record wiped clean.

The report also said that some veterans lost all of their income and others were unable to claim their pension because they had been fired.

Lord Etherton's report also makes 49 recommendations to the government including giving back medals to veterans that they had to hand in when they were dismissed or discharged, clarifying pension rights.

The report also recommended that "an appropriate financial award" should be made to affected veterans, capped at £50 million overall.

Lord Etherton also said that commission and rank should be retrospectively restored to what it was immediately before dismissals or discharges related to the pre-2000 ban, that a public memorial should be created and a veterans' badge should be granted to those who served at the time of the ban.

Lord Etherton said the report is a "unique record of what, to the modern eye, is an incomprehensible policy of homophobic bigotry in our armed forces".

But he said: "The armed forces today are a very different environment in terms of greater diversity and inclusion."

Describing the contribution of statements given by victims of the ban, he said: "Those statements give shocking evidence of a culture of homophobia and of bullying, blackmail and sexual assaults, abusive investigations into sexual orientation and sexual preference, disgraceful medical examinations, including conversion therapy, peremptory discharges, and appalling consequences in terms of mental health and wellbeing, homelessness, employment, personal relationships and financial hardship."

Lord Etherton's report said: "Many of the veterans who suffered from the ban are elderly, in poor mental and physical health and in financial need.

"They have already waited for a minimum of 23 years for justice and restitution. Any further delay can only be to their detriment."

Among its recommendations, it said: "The Prime Minister should deliver an apology in the UK Parliament on behalf of the nation to all those LGBT service personnel who served under and suffered from the ban (whether or not they were dismissed or discharged)."

It added: "An appropriate financial award should be made to affected veterans notwithstanding the expiry of litigation time limits.

"The Government's overall exposure should be capped at £50 million."

Referencing the apology, LGBT armed forces charity Fighting With Pride said it was a "truly historic day".

Former British Army officer Catherine Dixon, now vice-chairwoman at LGBT charity Stonewall, said: "Today's apology and announcements are an important step to achieving justice for those LGBTQ+ people who served in HM armed forces and, like me, experienced shame, humiliation and a ruined military career because of our sexuality.

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