Chaired by Lord Etherton, the review recommended that the Government make an official apology and financial compensation to individuals who were investigated, wrongfully discharged, imprisoned, or subjected to harmful ‘conversion therapy’ practices whilst in the Armed Forces due to their sexuality or perceived sexuality.
After its publication, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak apologised to the LGBT+ veteran community in the House of Commons.
Speaking during Prime Minister’s Question Time last week, Mr Sunak said,
“The ban on LGBTQ+ people serving in our military until the year 2000 was an appalling failure of the British state – decades behind the law of this land.
“As today’s report makes clear, in that period many endured the most horrific sexual abuse and violence, homophobic bullying, and harassment 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 part of the proud veteran community that has done so much to keep our country safe.”
Homosexuality was decriminalised within civilian society under the 1967 Sexual Offences Act in the United Kingdom. The act legalised same-sex sexual acts in private between consenting adults over the age of twenty-one.
Section 1 (5) of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act meant same-sex sexual acts were still considered a crime in the armed forces. This clause permitted dismissals via Courts-Martial, under the Army Act 1955, Air Force Act 1955, and the Naval Discipline Act 1957.
During this time, homosexuality was defined by the military as ‘disgraceful conduct of a cruel, indecent or unnatural kind’ or acting in ‘prejudice of good order and military discipline, punishable by a maximum term of two years in prison.
Many LGBTQ+ personnel who served during this time were subjected to rigorous enforcement of these laws, and often experienced harassment, physical and emotional harm, and pseudo-medical treatments to cure their homosexuality.
The ban on homosexual personnel serving in the military was lifted, following a ruling by the European Courts of Human Rights in the year 2000.
The exact number of LGBTQ+ personnel dismissed is difficult to determine. No central archive or comprehensive records exist within the Ministry of Defence. Moreover, most dismissals stated ‘services no longer than required’ than recording the true reason.
What is more, it has come to light that records that did exist were deliberately destroyed, by order of the Provost Marshall for the Armed Forces in 2010.
The review has shone a spotlight on the profound trauma LGBTQ+ personnel experienced whilst serving and in later life, who were subjected to physical and emotional violence, prosecution, punishment, criminal records, loss of medals, honours, rank, and pensions.
Mental health challenges continue to impact daily life. It has led to the breakdown of family relationships, withdrawal, social isolation, and loneliness. For others, it has impacted their abilities to find employment and make wider, meaningful contributions to civilian society.
It will prove almost impossible to express words to articulate the acute sense of moral injury felt by those dismissed during this time, who exemplified the same levels of courage, discipline, and selfless commitment to serve their country, as their heterosexual peers.
Having had to wait twenty-three years for the UK Government to apologise and recognise fundamental failings since the ban was lifted, it will have served to deepen many moral injuries and the re-living of past trauma as part of the review process.
As a result, the review has called on the Government to do more to help public services and the veteran charity sector to ensure their support needs are met.
Laura Falconer, Chief Executive Officer of Forces Children Scotland, said:
“We welcome the report and the recommendations and suggestions made. The recognition of wrongdoing and apologies are a good start. We particularly welcome the call on the government to do more to help public services and the veteran charity sector to ensure ongoing support needs are met.
“In supporting people who have experienced trauma, it is vital that there is a trauma-informed approach taken across all sectors, to co-producing appropriate support services, giving agency to those who have been affected.
“We would also like to see recognition of the potential impact the pre-2000 ban on homosexuality in the Armed Forces may have had on any children and young people in the wider family and appropriate support being available for the whole family.”
Hannah Johnstone, Children and Family Services Manager at Forces Children Scotland said:
“With the welcome news that Lord Etherton’s independent review has been published, Forces Children Scotland acknowledges that this might be a challenging time for children and young people affected by the findings of the report.
“The report may have brought up some painful memories or experiences, or you may be feeling anxious about what this all means. You might also be struggling with incredibly strong feelings which you might not understand.
“You might also have no reaction. These are all normal reactions, and you don’t need to feel strange about how you’re feeling. We have several resources that may help you.
If you are feeling anxious, you could try:
If you are feeling low, you could try:
If you are struggling in general, then you could try engaging in our six ways to wellbeing resource. These include:
More information can be found via our Your Mind Matters Digital Hub. We want to support you if you’re struggling. If you need any further support or advice, you can get in touch with us via: email@example.com.”
If you are concerned about your mental health, or if you have found yourself feeling concerned about someone else, you can access wider support via the following organisations:
Call 111 – NHS 24
Call 116 123 – The Samaritans
Call 0800 83 85 87 – Breathing Space
Text: ‘YM’ to 85258 – Young Minds crisis chat
If you think you are in danger of hurting yourself or other people, you should call 999 or present to your local A&E department.