British soldiers fired for being gay may have their medals back | LGBT rights

Thousands of British military personnel who were fired for being homosexuals could have their service medals restored if they were removed when they were expelled from the armed forces.

Gay rights activists hailed the move as the “first step on a journey”, but said issues such as long-lasting criminal records, lost pension rights and damaged service records now need to be addressed by the Ministry of Defense.

Gay men and lesbian women were banned from serving in the British armed forces until 2000. About 200 to 250 were expelled each year for their sexuality and often had their service medals removed.

In some cases, medals were physically stripped from a service provider’s uniform after a court-martial conviction. Those found guilty of being homosexuals sometimes served a prison sentence, usually several months.

Johnny Mercer, the veterans minister, said the ad “is about historic injustice”. He said the intention was to demonstrate that “the military is a positive place to work for everyone who has chosen to serve” and encouraged those who thought they were eligible to apply.

Last year, Joe Ousalice, 70, a veteran of the Falklands, personally received his medal for service and good conduct from defense secretary Ben Wallace, who had been removed from him in 1993 after a court-martial.

Ousalice, who is bisexual, served 18 years as a communications officer in the Royal Navy before being fired on charges he claims were forged. He won his medal back after opening a legal action, which prompted the Defense Ministry to apologize to him – and to promise to review the wider situation.

“This is far from enough,” said Ousalice. “Basically, when they take your medal from you, the medal effectively decrees what you get for your pension. When I took my medal and three badges of good conduct that I had, my classification was reduced. I had to wait until I was 60 before receiving a pension, whereas I could have received it immediately. “

Craig Jones, the chief executive of Fighting with Pride, a charity that supports LGBT + veterans, described the change as the “first step on a journey” and said he believed ministers like Mercer would go further.

“People’s lives were destroyed by the ban. We need to give people their commissions and guarantees back, real pardons for convictions, help with resettlement – and yes, there is an overwhelming case of pension compensation and restoration, ”added Jones.

The MoD said the government is working “to examine and understand the broad impact of pre-2000 practices on the armed forces”. This, the ministry said, would ensure that “in addition to the return of the medals, the impact of this historic error is recognized and properly addressed”, although no further details have been given.

Veterans who were expelled before 2000 said they had been the victims of secret investigations, including secret filming, or repeated harassment by the military police for several years in an attempt to prove they were gay.

Royal Air Force veteran David Bonney (r) and human rights activist Peter Tatchell deposited a wreath at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, after the Memorial Sunday service last November. Photography: Yui Mok / PA

The last military man to be sent to prison for being a homosexual was David Bonney, who was found guilty at a court martial in Cornwall in 1993. Bonney joined the RAF at the age of 17 in 1987 and said he “learned and accepted that I was gay” when he served during the first Gulf war.

Bonney said he was subject to an investigation two years after a copy of the Gay Times was found in his room. This included, he said, “bugging my room, having people following me, putting policemen out of local gay bars to spy on people who come in, using local police stations to take my friends, interviewing them and creating terror and fear. among my friends and associates ”.

The court-martial sentenced him to six months in prison, of which he served four, including one month of solitary confinement, and left him with a criminal record. – although following an appeal, his dismissal was changed to honorable. He said he hoped the MoD “would amend and compensate for the injustice and effective bullying I experienced.”