An apology has been given by Rishi Sunak for the awful historical treatment of LGBT veterans in the British military.
Until 2000, it was illegal to be gay in the British military. The justification at the time was “maintenance of operational effectiveness and efficiency,” which essentially means nothing. The policy was overturned after four servicemen and women who had been dismissed for their sexuality won a case in the European Court of Human Rights against the government of Great Britain.
Beginning just last year, an in-depth review was done on the experiences of over a thousand veterans who were dismissed for being gay between 1967, when homosexuality was decriminalized, and 2000. The LGBT Veterans Independent Review, led by judge Lord Etherton, included personal interviews, reviews of old legal cases, and digging up reports of harassment, violence, and assault that had been long-buried. It heard accounts of homophobia, bullying, blackmail, sexual assaults, “disgraceful” medical examinations, and conversion therapy.
When complete, the report produced by the review made 49 recommendations to the U.K. government. Some of them were:
Affected veterans to be given an “appropriate financial reward” capped at £50m overall (though the number of affected veterans is still unknown.)
The restoration of medals that had to be handed back on dismissal or discharge
The clarification of pension rights
The presentation of a special veterans’ badge
The government said that it would respond in full after summer recess, but Rishi Sunak decided to issue an apology as a promise that the report and its recommendations would be taken seriously.
“Having our history, experiences and enormous pain acknowledged and apologized for, hearing that the armed services and government that perpetuated institutional bullying will now be held accountable to finally support LBGT+ veterans, is a relief,” said Emma Riley, 51. Riley was a Royal Navy radio operator before she told a colleague that she was a lesbian in the early 1990s. Her colleague reported her, and Riley was arrested and discharged. Her story is an extremely common one. An apology is a small step, but it will hopefully lead to something more.