British personnel who were fired from the military for being LGBTQ+ will finally be able to have their service medals restored.
To coincide with LGBT History Month, Veterans minister Johnny Mercer has announced that former veterans will be invited to apply to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) if their honours were stripped away due to their sexuality.
“Gutted some of our people did not enjoy their time in the military as much as I did, and suffered serious injustice simply for being gay,” he said in a tweet.
“[The Office for Veterans’ Affairs] is resetting the UK’s relationship with her veterans, which includes this historic wrong.”
Mercer said he’s “determined to address the scars of our past” and issued an apology to the queer soldiers who were affected by the archaic regiment.
In a statement to i, a senior government official said: “This is about fixing a historic injustice where heroes have had their medals taken away from them for all the wrong reasons.”
Homosexual men and women were banned for serving in the British military until 2000. Each year, up to 250 soldiers were sacked because of their sexuality and their medals were stripped – in convicted in court, medals were physically torn from their uniforms.
It wasn’t uncommon for those convicted of being queer to serve months in prison.
Bisexual veteran Joe Ousalice, 70, served 18 years as a communication officer in the Royal Navy until he was found guilty in 1993 of being in bed with another man. Although he claims this was fabricated, he was sacked so he would not “corrupt” his peers.
In 2019, he took the government to court and was re-awarded his Long Service and Good Conduct Medal one year later, becoming the first person to draw attention to those who had their medals stripped away due to their sexuality.
Ousalice has since used his platform to campaign for a change in law to help others who were affected like him.
At the time, he said: “The navy wasn’t just my job, it was my life. But to do it I had to hide another important part of me, which I did because I loved the navy life so much I didn’t want to give it up. But I shouldn’t have been asked to choose.
“I was made to feel like I was disgusting and in the end I was hounded out on some trumped up charges, and told that because I was attracted to men, my 18 years of service counted for nothing. It was heartbreaking.”
Craig Jones, joint chief executive of Fighting with Pride – a charity in support of queer veterans – said the move was the “first step on a journey” towards justice, but called upon the government to go further.
“People’s lives were shattered by the ban,” said Jones. “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.”
This historic new move arrives four years after the Alan Turning Law, named after the computing pioneer, which pardoned thousands of gay and bisexual men who were convicted under now-abolished anti-LGBTQ+ offences.
Gutted some of our people did not enjoy their time in the Military as much as I did, and suffered serious injustice simply for being gay.
— Johnny Mercer (@JohnnyMercerUK) February 13, 2021
I’m determined to address the scars of our past. So from today, we are opening up a process to reinstate operational medals to those who were stripped of them just for being gay.
Thank you for YOUR service, and I’m sorry for what happened to you. 🏳️🌈 https://t.co/tKVUduKoKc
— Johnny Mercer (@JohnnyMercerUK) February 16, 2021