By Bill Heaney
He said: “The ban on LGBT people serving in our military until the year 2000 was an appalling failure of the British state—it was decades behind the law of this land.
“As today’s report makes clear, in that period many endured the most horrific sexual abuse and violence, homophobic bullying and harassment, all while bravely serving this country.
“Today, on behalf of the British state, I apologise, and I hope that all those affected will be able to feel proud parts of the veteran community, which has done so much to keep our country safe.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak apologised in parliament to LGBT military veterans.
His Conservative colleague, the former Home Secretary Sajid Javid, told MPs: “In the UK, sadly, every 90 minutes someone takes their own life. Indeed, for men under the age of 50 and for women under the age of 35, this is now the biggest killer.
“When I was the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, I met many brave families and campaigners, and I committed to them that the Government would publish a comprehensive, cross-departmental suicide prevention strategy.
“That was more than a year ago and still there is no strategy. I know that the Prime Minister cares as deeply about this issue as I do; we have discussed it many times.
“Will he please commit his Government to publishing the strategy within days of Parliament’s return from the summer recess?”
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, pictured here on a visit to HM Naval Base Clyde at Faslane with Boris Johnston at the end of last year.
Making a statement to the Commons about the treatment of LGBT veterans, Mr Wallace also said he was “deeply sorry” on behalf of the Government and the military.
The apology was made after a recommendation from a Government-commissioned independent review into the service and the experiences of LGBT veterans who served in the Armed Forces between 1967 and 2000.
The review, carried out by Lord Etherton, former master of the rolls and head of civil justice, was published on Wednesday.
Lord Etherton’s report said: “I recommend that 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).”
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.”
Defence Secretary Mr Wallace, told MPs he “was struck by one particular quote in the report from a veteran who said ‘I don’t feel like I’m a veteran, I’ve never asked for help, I don’t feel like my service was recognised’”.
“Today we want to say to all those ex-soldiers, sailors and aviators, many now in retirement, you are one of us, you belong in our community and in choosing to put yourself in harm’s way for the good of your colleagues, your community and country, you have proven yourselves the best of us,” Mr Wallace said.
“I say again to the veterans’ community, I’m deeply sorry for what happened to you. The very tolerance and values of Western democracy that we expected you to fight for, we denied to you, it was profoundly wrong.
“I am determined as Defence Secretary, and as a veteran, to do all I can do today to right those historic wrongs so that you can once again take pride in your service and inspire future generations to follow in your footsteps.”
Olympian Dame Kelly Holmes, who served in the army and came out as gay last year, said the report into past mistreatment of LGBT people in the military was a “historic moment”.
Dame Kelly added: “I think it was as well as we could have all expected. I thought the session just now with the Secretary of State was fantastic.
“I think it was very personable in terms of him reflecting on his own career and adding to the apology.
“It means a huge amount to be here today and to hear it and be part of this with some other veterans that are all part of the review.”
The report recommended an “appropriate financial award” should be made to veterans affected by the pre-2000 ban on homosexuality in the Armed Forces.
It said: “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.”
Craig Jones MBE, Executive Chair and Caroline Paige, Chief Executive of Fighting With Pride, in a joint statement, said: “This is a deeply emotional moment for both of us, a day we’d hoped for but sometimes wondered if it would actually happen.
“More importantly, this is the day thousands of veterans whose lives have been blighted by the cruel ban have been waiting for.
“It’s a watershed moment for LGBT+ veterans who’ve lost careers, homes, families and their sense of honour and justice.
“The Prime Minister’s apology on behalf of the nation marks the culmination of a very long road travelled on behalf of people who’ve suffered unimaginable loss and shame.
“Sadly, for some, this day comes too late. We must now ensure the government moves quickly, so that words translate into action.
“We’ll be working with government to make sure every affected veteran gets the reparation and compensation they’re owed.”
Carol Morgan, who served in the British Army from 1978 to 1984 before being thrown out, said: “The day I was dismissed was the most heart-breaking day of my life.
“I lost my career, home and family. I had to ‘out’ myself to my father. “All for being gay. How can that be made up for? The humiliation and lack of self-worth.
“With the report today, the public will finally know the truth, how we were hounded like animals for our sexuality.
“As service personnel, prepared to put our lives on the line for our country, we were disregarded.
“The apology offers me some comfort but for others, it’s too little too late. “It’s really sad, many have taken their own lives.”
Ken Wright, 62, is a former RAF Police Officer who, despite being considered a rising star, was forced out in 1990 after he ‘admitted’ to being gay.
He said: “After being denied the opportunity to defend one’s country, being told you aren’t good enough to wear the uniform, after hiding the truth, shamefaced, from family, friends and employers, it takes huge inner strength to feel reconciled all of a sudden today.
“I can’t think of a greater insult than to be told, ‘Your country doesn’t want you’.
“Carrying that insult for 35 years scars you for life.
“On the day I was kicked out, I huddled in the corner of a grubby bedsit and cried my eyes out.
“My partner then, my husband now, recently told me, ‘Your hair turned grey overnight’. I was 26 years old.
“Sorry is a small word, one of the hardest to say. I accept the Prime Minister’s apology with good grace, diluted by melancholy for what might have been.”
In response to the review, the director general at the Royal British Legion said the charity welcomed the “long overdue review”.
“We condemn the mistreatment the LGBTQ+ community experienced and are urging the government to accept the recommendations of the report in full. We welcome the Prime Minister’s landmark apology,” Charles Byrne said.
“It’s been shocking to see the prejudice and mistreatment of thousands of LGBTQ+ people in the Armed Forces community who served under the ban laid bare.
“Many people who had dedicated their lives to serving their country were forced or felt pressured to leave the Armed Forces, and this mistreatment destroyed or shortened their career.
“We have heard from people who had medals and honours stripped from them, experienced rejection from their friends and family, were left with no income or place to live, and found their mental health was profoundly affected, simply because of their sexual orientation.”
The Royal Air Forces Association also released a statement after the PM’s apology, in which its director of member, branch and wellbeing said before the ban was lifted, “many people suffered horrific ill-treatment due to this law”.
“We welcome the apology made by the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary in Parliament today regarding the historic treatment of LGBT veterans and Armed Forces personnel.
“The RAF Association proudly supports our entire RAF community and we have signed up to the Pride in Veterans Standard (PiVS) programme, demonstrating our desire to deliver the highest standards for LGBT+ veteran inclusion.
“PiVS is run by Fighting With Pride and is open to organisations that provide services or support for the Armed Forces community and are committed to providing inclusive and welcome support to LGBT+ veterans, serving personnel and their families.”