Rishi Sunak apologises to LGBTQ+ veterans, calling military ban an ‘appalling failure’

Prime minister Rishi Sunak has apologised to LGBTQ+ veterans who faced horrendous treatment under the armed forces ‘gay military ban’, as an independent review is finally published. 

On Wednesday (19 July), Sunak addressed the House of Commons – and the wider nation – and issued an apology to the LGBTQ+ veterans who were abused and mistreated under the blanket ban. 

The prime minister called the ban an “appalling failure of the British state” which was “decades behind the law of this land”.

Until the year 2000, the armed forces employed a ‘gay ban’ which prevented LGBTQ+ people from openly serving. 

If people were discovered to be LGBTQ+ whilst in the armed forces, some faced horrific treatment including physical and sexual abuse, so-called ‘conversion therapy’ and blackmail, as well as dismissal from the service. 

Such dismissals often resulted in lifelong trauma and long-term financial hardships for people as they lost their employment, homes and pensions, alongside social isolation from friends, family and colleagues. 

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“As today’s report makes clear,” the prime minster continued, “in that period, many endured the most horrific sexual abuse and violence, homophobic bullying and harassment, all while bravely serving this country. 

“Today, on behalf of the British state, I apologise and I hope all those affected will be able to feel proud parts of the veteran community that has done so much to keep our country safe.” 

Sunak’s apology comes as the LGBT Veterans Independent Review, which was carried out by chair Lord Etherton, has been publicly published. 

Publication of the review comes after calls from campaigners for it to be in the domain on behalf of all the veterans who contributed to it. 

In June, LGBTQ+ veterans charity Fighting with Pride expressed concern the review might not be made public at all or could be delayed until later in the summer, thus becoming buried due to the long House of Commons recess.

In response, Labour leader Keir Starmer said the opposition welcomed Sunak’s apology. 

“Labour in government was proud to repeal the military ban against LGBTQ+ people serving in our Armed Forces,” Starmer said, “and today we strongly welcome this apology from the Prime Minister as a recognition of their historic mistreatment.

He continued: “Whilst we cannot write the wrongs of the past, the government should now act on the recommendations of the editor review to fix the lives broken by the ban. 

“It’s what LGBTQ+ veterans deserve.”

In a tweet, Fighting with Pride called the apology an “historic day”, followed by another tweet where the group stated: “With this important first step of a public apology, comes the publication of the @LGBTVetReview. We once again give our thanks to those Veterans who bravely shared their stories in order to see a brighter future for all LGBT+ Veterans. Thank you.”

Cat Dixon, vice chair of Stonewall and army veteran said the apology for the military ban is an “important step” to  “achieving justice” for those LGBTQ+ people who served in the armed Forces and “like me, experienced shame, humiliation and a ruined military career because of our sexuality”. 

Dixon continued: “Many were imprisoned, experienced corrective violence, and lived with the stain of a criminal convictions because of who they loved and which left some homeless and many unable to work. 

“Stonewall is proud to have played a key role in overturning the ban in the courts which was finally lifted in 2000, to have worked with HM Armed Forces over the years to support their journey to being LGBTQ+ inclusive employers, and in ensuring that LGBTQ+ veterans received today’s apology and where needed support.” 

The veteran added: “I would like to thank all who spoke out and contributed to the independent review, Lord Etherton and Fighting with Pride for their steadfast resolution to ensuring justice is done.”

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