LGBT+ veterans whose lives were destroyed by military ban to give evidence in long overdue review

A group of UK army soldiers march in Pride in London parade

LGBT+ veterans whose lives were “shattered” by the pre-2000 military ban will be invited to share their stories as part of a new government review.

The Cabinet Office has launched an independent review that will hear the stories of queer military personnel who were discharged from the military, stripped of their medals or convicted under laws that were in place until January 2000.

The government says the review will enable it to better tailor support for the LGBT+ veteran community.

Mike Freer, minister for equalities, said the government is “committed to righting the wrongs of the past”. He added that “listening to those veterans affected by the ban” is the first step forward in this process.

“Our Armed Forces have given us freedom and peace, and I am proud to stand alongside every LGBT veteran,” Freer said.

In a joint statement, Craig Jones MBE and Caroline Paige, joint CEOs of LGBT+ military charity Fighting With Pride (FWP), welcomed the new review as an “important step forward” in healing the damage inflicted on LGBT+ veterans.

Jones and Paige said: “In the course of this review the independent chair will hear accounts from veterans whose lives were shattered by criminal convictions, prison sentences and dismissal in disgrace, and of the enduring impact on those lives.

“Thousands more ended careers prematurely through administrative or other routes. FWP looks forward to working with [the] government to achieve an honourable outcome for LGBT+ veterans.”

LGBT+ veterans and joint CEOs of charity Fighting With Pride Craig Jones and Caroline Paige hold a wreath made of red poppies

Joint CEOs of Fighting With Pride Craig Jones MBE and Caroline Paige pose with a wreath as they attend the Remembrance Sunday Procession on 14 November 2021. (Getty/Hollie Adams)

Several LGBT+ veterans have shared their horrific experiences of living and serving under the homophobic military ban as the review is launched.

David Bonney served four months in a Colchester military prison in 1995 after he was convicted of “homosexual conduct” while working as a medic for the Royal Air Force.

While he was later freed on appeal, he told BBC News that the conviction is still on his criminal record and has a profound impact on his life.

“From the moment I admitted to [being gay], I was held in a cell separate to everyone,” he said. “Handcuffs, going into a cell, treated as if I’d murdered or mugged someone.”

Jones, a former lieutenant commander in the Royal Navy, told PA news agency that it was a “national disgrace” that it took 22 years for the government to launch this review.

He recalled being a “deputy navigator on HMS Invincible” and would always be on the lookout for “any police on the jetty” when he brought the ship into port.

“You can imagine what a huge distraction that is from your professional job, because I was always waiting for [the] day when the police would take me away,” Jones said.

He described how he revealed his sexuality on the day the ban was lifted as he felt a “sense of duty” to the “remarkably courageous” military personnel who fought to lift it.

“They had lost everything,” Jones said.

He continued: “They’d lost their health and they’d lost their jobs and they’d lost their pensions and their peace of mind to some extent, but they still fought for justice and for my right, for my opportunity of service in the armed forces.

“I think the UK armed forces today are the best in the world for LGBT+ inclusion, but nothing has been done for those who were dismissed in disgrace, and it’s a national disgrace that nothing had been done.”

The full scope of the review has yet to be announced.

But it’s set to look at the impact the ban had on the lives of LGBT+ veterans, the accessibility of veterans’ services for queer people and ensuring that LGBT+ veterans are recognised as members of the armed forces.