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.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

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."

Read more: Dismissed LGBT veterans can apply to reclaim confiscated medals

Read more: Falklands veteran 'forced out' over sexuality will have medals returned

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.

More Latest News

See more More Latest News

One driver had to be rescued from the floods by helicopter

Floods in Spanish tourist hotspot cause chaos, as trapped driver hauled from car by rescue workers in helicopter

Aimee Betro (l and top) and Mohammed Nazir and Mohammed Aslam (bottom right)

Hitwoman in a hijab: First pictures of fugitive American 'assassin' following botched BritIsh murder bid

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban addresses the media after receiving the results of the European Parliament elections

Top EU court fines Hungary 200m euros for flouting asylum law

Moment 'dine and dash' family are caught on camera demolish fried breakfasts, sides and five cokes before fleeing café without paying at Cafe No.35

Moment 'dine and dash' family demolish fried breakfasts, sides and five cokes before fleeing café without paying bill

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin (left) arrives for bilateral talks on the sidelines of a Nato defence ministers' meeting in Brussels

Nato defence ministers thrash out Ukraine security aid and training support plan

Middle terrace at ruins of Ancient Kameiros, Kalavarda, Rhodes (Rodos), The Dodecanese, South Aegean Region, Greece

Rhodes hit by 4.8-magnitude earthquake as holidaymakers describe 'the whole airport shaking'

A tourist fans a companion in front of the the Parthenon at the Acropolis in Athens

Heatwave forces Greek authorities to shut Acropolis in afternoon for second day

Paramilitary police officers patrol near Borgo Egnazia, venue of the G7 summit in Puglia, southern Italy

G7 summit opens with deal to use frozen Russian assets for Ukraine

'Economically Brexit's working': Nigel Farage says but claims it has 'not been properly implimented'

'Economically Brexit's working': Nigel Farage says but claims it has 'not been properly implemented'

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa meets senior officials of his African National Congress party

South African parties cobble together unity government before electing president

Nigel Farage says Germans should 'get a sense of humour' amid calls for football fans who chant 'Ten German Bombers' to be prosecuted

Nigel Farage says Germans need to 'get a sense of humour' if football fans sing Ten German Bombers chant

Farage says he’d lead a 'centre-right' party to could stand against Labour… as he blames Cameron and Osborne for turning the Tories socialist democrat party

Nigel Farage reveals he would be lead a Conservative-Reform merged party

Nigel Farage in the LBC studio today and (right) on the Reform UK campaign bus in Barnsley, South Yorkshire this week

'This is how ordinary people speak': Farage defends Reform UK candidates after anti-Islam and far-right comments exposed

Reform UK candidate Steve Chilcott said ‘Islam and Nazis are the same thing’ in comments in 2017

Reform candidate rants that ‘Islam and Nazis are the same thing’ in unearthed footage

'PM’s don’t always get decisions right': David Cameron defends Rishi Sunak’s handling of D-Day commemorations

'PMs don’t always get decisions right': David Cameron defends Rishi Sunak’s handling of D-Day commemorations

Exclusive
Nigel Farage said he would not surrender to the 'mob'

'I'm not going to surrender to the mob': Farage blames ‘angry left’ and social media after milkshake attacks