Healing the wounds: apology and action for LGBTQ+ veterans
LGBTQ+ veterans were tortured, degraded and sexually abused within the armed forces while it was illegal to be gay in the British military, an independent report found.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak apologised to victims of the non-recent abuse, which came to light in the LGBTQ+ Veterans Independent Review. Speaking in the House of Commons in July, Mr Sunak said the abuse was an “appalling failure of the British state”.
Led by Britain’s first openly gay judge, Lord Etherton, the review covered incidents between 1967 – when homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK – and 2000 – when the ban on gay people in the armed forces was lifted. Testimonials were given by 1,128 veterans.
The themes of the report include:
- Institutional homophobia – The testimonies from LGBTQ+ veterans highlight homophobia at all levels.
- Abusive and intrusive practices – These practices encompassed public arrests and accommodation searches, “outing” personnel to their families, aggressive interviews and torture, use of homophobic and degrading language, covert surveillance on and off the base, and pressuring personnel to report others for investigation. Disturbing medical interventions were also reported in an attempt to “cure” homosexuality through electroconvulsive therapy, chemical castration, or strong sedatives.
- Toxic culture created by the ban – Bullying in the form of psychological, physical, and sexual abuse is reported to have been widespread at all levels. Blackmail was used to pressure personnel into sexual acts and silence survivors of sexual violence.
- Absence of pastoral care – Chaplains and medical officers were instructed not to follow the usual confidentiality rules when serving members discussed sexuality or gender identity.
- Impact on military career and future prospects – Being suspected of homosexuality was used to deny promotion or training opportunities. The review reports many veterans being immediately demoted, having their commissions removed and destroyed, and being informed that this would reduce their pension.
- Lack of recognition of gender identity for transgender veterans, who were often considered to be LGB and in denial/confused. Non-LGBTQ+ personnel were also discharged purely for having been in a social circle with someone who was dismissed for homosexuality.
- Long-lasting impacts are described in the review, including a lifetime of shame and lack of self-esteem, and mental health issues including PTSD. The treatment of LGBTQ+ veterans also often led to financial struggles – as many lost their employment, homes, and pensions – and social isolation.
LGBT Veterans Independent Review recommendations
The review makes 49 recommendations for the Government, including:
- Restoration of status and medals
- Opportunity to seek clarification of pension rights
- Further funding for the service LGBTQ+ network within the MoD
- Financial award – capped at £50 million and within 24 months of the Government publishing award arrangements.
- Enhanced NHS care requirement.
Fighting with Pride, an LGBTQ+ veterans’ charity, expressed its satisfaction with the report and subsequent Government apology, hailing it as a historic moment. The charity thanked the veterans who bravely shared their stories in the Independent Review, paving the way for a better future for all LGBTQ+ veterans.
The charity Stonewall (which played an important role in overturning the ban) and army veteran Cat Dixon also commended the apology, describing it as an important step toward achieving justice for LGBTQ+ individuals who faced humiliation and discrimination due to their sexuality. Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour Party, welcomed the apology and urged the Government to act on the recommendations of the independent review to address the lives that were deeply affected by the ban.
As the recommendations of the review are considered by the Government, there is an optimistic anticipation that these measures will pave the way for healing and the acknowledgment that every person, irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender, is entitled to dignity and respect.