Royal British Legion finally apologises for historic discrimination of LGBT+ veterans

The emblem of the British Legion's annual poppy appeal sits on a work bench at the company headquarters in London.

The Royal British Legion (RBL) has won praise after it apologised for historic discrimination against the LGBT+ community and war veterans.

The RBL is a national organisation that works to make sure the contribution of the armed forces is not forgotten – however, it has faced criticism in the past for its approach to LGBT+ veterans.

The charity once described LGBT+ wreaths at a First World War memorial in London as “disgusting” and “an insult to the war dead”, according to activist Peter Tatchell.

The organisation has been accused of ordering that LGBT+ wreaths be removed and destroyed in the past.

The RBL has finally apologised for its past treatment of LGBT+ veterans in a letter written to Tatchell, who raised the issue with the organisation late last year.

Tatchell had asked the RBL to issue a “public apology to LGBT+ veterans and the wider LGBT+ community for its actions in the past”. He accused the organisation of having refused to acknowledge that LGBT+ people serve in the armed forces and of opposing LGBT+ veterans marching in a Remembrance Sunday parade.

He also said the RBL had failed to respond to letters from himself and other LGBT+ activists over the years criticising its approach to LGBT+ veterans.

Royal British Legion has ‘very much changed’ on LGBT+ issues

Charles Byrne, director general of the RBL, said he was “deeply saddened” to hear of Tatchell’s past experience with the charity.

“I am deeply saddened by your previous experience with the charity, and I can only apologise on RBL’s behalf for not responding and the discrimination shown at the time,” Byrne wrote.

“RBL has very much changed as an organisation since your original correspondence with us… The behaviour you outline of the RBL of the past is not tolerated in today’s organisation.

“The corrective action of more recent years has led to an organisation where differences are celebrated.”

Byrne said RBL has since formed a “positive relationship” with Fighting with Pride, a charity that supports LGBT+ veterans, and he said they had set up a helpline to support former veterans from the community.

This draws a line under the pain of the RBL’s previous prejudice and discrimination.

He also said RBL had provided support to LGBT+ veterans who were unfairly discharged and stripped of their medals before the ban on gay people serving in the armed forces was lifted in 2000.

Tatchell welcomed the RBL’s apology. “Our praise and thanks to the Legion for turning away from its homophobic past with this forthright and fulsome apology,” he said.

“We are delighted by its commitment to support LGBT+ veterans and work with the LGBT+ community. This draws a line under the pain of the RBL’s previous prejudice and discrimination. LGBT+ people can now confidently collaborate with the RBL, knowing the they are on our side.”

According to Tatchell, all LGBT+ wreaths were removed from the Cenotaph in London and destroyed until 1985. He said he was told this was done at the request of the RBL.

Anti-LGBT+ discrimination is an ‘ongoing issue’ in the military

Much has changed in the last two decades for LGBT+ personnel and veterans, but there is more work to be done to stamp out discrimination, according to a solicitor who specialises in the area.

Hannah Swarbrick, associate in the military claims team at solicitors firm Bolt Burdon Kemp, told PinkNews that discrimination is an “ongoing problem within the military” – however, she stressed that steps have been taken recently to address those issues.

“The government recently announced a review of the impact of the pre-2000 ban on homosexual service personnel, and initiatives have been launched to restore medals and improve diversity training,” Swarbrick said.

“That being said, more can and should be done within the military and the military charities, which play a crucial role in supporting personnel and veterans, to celebrate diversity and promote a culture of inclusivity.

“We still see many cases involving discrimination against LGBTQ+ personnel and more should and can be done to tackle these prejudices.”