UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has delivered a historic apology at the House of Commons, formally apologising to LGBTQ+ veterans who suffered abuse and mistreatment under the historical ‘gay ban’ enforced in the armed forces.
The ‘gay ban,’ which was in place until 2000, prohibited LGBTQ+ individuals from openly serving in the military. Those who were discovered to be LGBTQ+ while serving often faced unimaginable horrors, including physical and sexual abuse, so-called ‘conversion therapy,’ blackmail, and eventual dismissal from service.
Prime Minister Sunak, speaking on behalf of the British state, referred to the ban as an “appalling failure” that was “decades behind the law of this land.” He expressed deep regret for the harrowing sexual abuse, violence, homophobic bullying, and harassment that many LGBTQ+ veterans endured while serving their country.
The long-term consequences of this discriminatory policy were profound, with many veterans suffering lifelong trauma, financial hardships, and social isolation as they lost their employment, homes, and pensions. The government’s belated apology addresses the pain and injustice inflicted on these individuals and recognises their significant contributions to keeping the nation safe.
The apology coincides with the publication of the LGBTQ+ Veterans Independent Review, conducted under the guidance of Lord Etherton. This review resulted from the collective efforts of veterans who courageously shared their experiences, demanding acknowledgment and accountability for the historic mistreatment they faced.
Campaigners, including LGBTQ+ veterans charity Fighting with Pride, had been advocating for the public release of the review, fearing it might be buried or delayed during the lengthy House of Commons recess. The eventual publication of the review, alongside the Prime Minister’s apology, marks a significant victory for those who worked tirelessly to shed light on this issue.
Fighting with Pride and other LGBTQ+ advocacy groups celebrated the apology as a “historic day” and praised the bravery of veterans who shared their stories to pave the way for a more inclusive and equitable future. They also expressed gratitude to Lord Etherton for leading the independent review and ensuring that justice was pursued.
Cat Dixon, vice chair of Stonewall and an army veteran, emphasised the significance of the apology as a step towards achieving justice for LGBTQ+ individuals who faced shame, humiliation, and ruined military careers due to their sexuality. Dixon acknowledged the progress made in overturning the ban and commended the efforts of the armed forces in becoming LGBTQ+ inclusive employers.