Thousands of British military personnel who were dismissed on grounds of homosexuality will be able to have their service medals restored if they had been taken away when they were kicked out of the armed forces, the Guardian reports.
Gay rights campaigners welcomed the move as the “first step on a journey” but said that issues such as enduring criminal records, lost pension rights and still blemished service records now needed to be dealt with by the Ministry of Defence.
By law, gay men and lesbian women were banned from serving in the British military until 2000. About 200 to 250 were thrown out each year because of their sexuality, and frequently had their service medals removed.
In some instances, medals were physically ripped from a service person’s uniform after a conviction at court martial. Those found guilty of being homosexual sometimes went on to a serve a prison term, typically several months long.
Johnny Mercer, the veterans minister, said the announcement “addresses a historic injustice”. He said that it was intended to demonstrate “the military is a positive place to work for all who chose to serve” and encouraged those who thought they were eligible to apply.
Last year, Joe Ousalice, 70, a Falklands veteran, was personally handed back his long service and good conduct medal by the defence secretary, Ben Wallace, which had been removed from him in 1993 after a court martial.
Ousalice, who is bisexual, had served 18 years as a communications officer in the Royal Navy before he was dismissed on charges that he maintains were fabricated. He won his medal back after he had launched a legal action, which led the MoD to apologise to him – and to promise to review the wider situation.
“This is nowhere near enough,” Ousalice said. “Basically, when they take your medal from you, the medal effectively decrees what you get for your pension. By taking my medal and three good conduct badges that I had, my rank was cut. I had to wait until 60 before drawing a pension, whereas I could have got it immediately.”
Craig Jones, the joint chief executive of Fighting with Pride, a charity supporting LGBT+ veterans, described the move as the “first step on a journey” and said that he believed that ministers such as Mercer would go further.
“People’s lives were shattered by the ban. We need to look at giving people their commissions and warrants back, royal pardons of convictions, help with resettlement – and, yes, there is an overwhelming case for compensation and the restoration of pensions,” Jones added.
The MoD said that the government was working “to examine and understand the wide ranging impact of pre-2000 practices in the armed forces”. That, the ministry said, would ensure that “beyond the return of medals, the impact of this historical wrong is acknowledged and appropriately addressed” although no further details were given.
Veterans who were kicked out before 2000 said they were victims of covert investigations, including secret filming, or repeated harassment by military police over several years in an attempt to prove they were gay.
The last serviceman to be sent to prison for being homosexual was David Bonney, who was found guilty at a court martial in Cornwall in 1993. Bonney had joined the RAF aged 17 in 1987 and said he had “learned and accepted I was gay” when he served during the first Gulf war.
Bonney said he was subject to a two-year investigation after a copy of Gay Times had been found in his room. That included, he said, “bugging my room, having people follow me, placing officers outside the local gay bars to spy on people going in, using the local police stations to take my friends to, to interview them and altogether create 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 discharge was changed to honourable. He said he hoped the MoD would “amend and compensate for the injustice and effective bullying I experienced”.