Today (Wednesday 19 July 2023) Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, took the momentous step of apologising to the nation for the treatment of LGBT+ veterans who have suffered the lifelong impact of the so-called ‘gay ban’ which existed in the armed forces up until the year 2000.
Speaking at the last Prime Minister’s Question Time before the MPs’ Summer break, Sunak said sorry to parliament.
The apology comes at the same time as publication of a long-awaited judge-led review. Today marks the culmination of over 20 years of campaigning for justice. In 2020, specialist charity Fighting with Pride was set up by former Royal Navy officer, Craig Jones and ex-RAF navigator, Caroline Paige to right the wrongs of the ban, including financial remedy from lost pensions and loss of earnings. Craig Jones and Caroline Paige joined veterans to hear the apology in parliament.
Up to 5000 veterans are estimated to have been affected both mentally and financially. Many were subjected to highly intrusive military police investigations, imprisoned and have lived with criminal records. Some were even put through conversion therapy; chemical and psychiatric.
Lord Etherton, who led the Review into the impact of the ban, has made over 60 recommendations, including that substantial financial reparations should be made. Fighting With Pride is calling for the immediate creation of a hardship fund to support those with urgent needs and money for people with terminal conditions. These emergency measures must be followed by a comprehensive compensation scheme to remedy financial losses due to the ban.
Craig Jones MBE, Executive Chair, and Caroline Paige, Chief Executive of Fighting With Pride, 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 served in the army from 1978 to 1984 before being thrown out:
‘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 simply because he ‘admitted’ to being gay:
‘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. ‘