As we mark 50 years of Pride, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for the armed forces, Luke Pollard, writes for PinkNews to highlight the LGBTQ+ veterans pushed out of the armed forces, “still waiting for justice”.
In the past few weeks and throughout the summer, LGBTQ+ service people from across our armed forces have and will represent their branches at Pride celebrations across the UK.
Their presence is a reminder of how far we’ve come since 2000, when Labour proudly lifted the ban on LGBTQ+ personnel serving in our military.
But as we continue to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the very first Pride march in the UK, we must remember that thousands of LGBTQ+ veterans pushed out of the forces are still waiting for justice.
Notwithstanding the enormous progress made in each of the services, we must also recommit ourselves making our armed forces free of any harassment or discrimination.
Despite the return of LGBTQ+ armed forces members’ medals, there has still been ‘no closure, no justice’
When LGBTQ+ personnel were dismissed under the pre-2000 ban, not only were their livelihoods and dignity stripped of them, lost their pensions, right to wear medals or berets – a shameful betrayal of those who sacrificed so much to keep our nation safe.
Ministers have given permission for medals to now be worn, but many other restrictions – including in written orders from commanding officers – not to participate in veterans events or wear the colours or insignia of their ship, squadron or regiment remain.
The stories are harrowing. The ban on LGBTQ+ personnel servicing was not just an ejection from the job they loved, it meant military prison, dismissal in disgrace, public outing and a lifetime of pain. Many personnel were given sex offender status simply for being gay. Many lost their homes, their families, their livelihood, freedom, some falling into homelessness as a result.
In recent months, I’ve spoken to former service people who faced such a dismissal for their sexuality. And I’ve heard a depressingly common response: “There’s been no closure, no justice.”
Labour has pledged £35 million to boost mental health support for veterans
Mental health support has also been found wanting. Many LGBTQ+ veterans are still grappling with the consequences of their experiences, but waiting times for veterans’ treatments have been described by the Confederation of Service Charities as “significantly and stubbornly high”, one of the reasons why Labour would boost veterans’ mental health funding by £35m.
We are pleased that the government has reflected the proposals put forward by Labour in the Armed Forces Bill and now launched a review into the experiences of LGBTQ+ veterans impacted by the ban.
But after 12 years in government, the Conservatives have had ample opportunity to set the record straight. Thousands of LGBTQ+ veterans are still waiting for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to examine their pensions and medals claims, and convictions remain on some criminal records.
The MoD has even admitted that it still does not know how many personnel were court-martialed because of their sexuality. The new inquiry will, I hope, provide transparency as well as justice.
As Labour’s shadow veterans minister Stephanie Peacock has rightly said, the government’s review must be comprehensive enough to address the historic hurt felt by the LGBTQ+ veteran community.
Its recommendations should consider appropriate compensation for those dismissed from the Armed Forces as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity, including the restoration of ranks and other forms of compensation.
Ministers have set a deadline for the review to finish by May next year, so they must also commit to acting immediately on its findings. The report cannot simply sit on a minister’s desk gathering dust.
Luke Pollard, Labour MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport with his boyfriend (Twitter/Luke Pollard)
Luke Pollard MP: ‘LGBTQ+ people are still waiting for true equality in the armed forces’
There is no doubt that the vast majority of service people benefit enormously from their time in our armed forces, but some discriminatory barriers do remain for LGBTQ+ personnel.
According to the government’s own figures published in May, discrimination based on sexual orientation has more than tripled in the last two years for Royal Navy officers, and this is likely to be seriously underreported across all branches.
We strongly welcomed the government’s recent announcement that those living with HIV will be able to serve, but the department has also confirmed that those who use PrEP are still not able to become RAF aircrew or air traffic controllers. We must keep up the pressure to change this.
The first duty of the government is to protect the nation, something that simply would not be possible without the bravery, commitment and sacrifice of our serving personnel – including those in the LGBTQ+ family.
Equality, dignity, decency and integrity are British values our armed forces uphold, and that is why justice for those stripped of rank for being who they are needs addressing.
Progress has been made in recent years – much of which is due to the hard work and persistence of the brilliant LGBTQ+ charity Fighting with Pride – but there remains a long way to go.
Luke Pollard is the Labour MP for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport.