Throughout the summer, LGBTQ+ service people from across our armed forces are representing their branches at Pride celebrations around the UK.
Their presence is a reminder of how far we’ve come since 2000. Before then, it was illegal to be gay in the UK armed forces – before Labour proudly lifted the ban on LGBTQ+ personnel serving in our military.
LGBTQ+ personnel bravely served our country, but as many as 20,000 were jailed, abused, publicly outed, or hounded out of the Forces because of their sexuality or gender identity. That is a mark of shame.
As we celebrate Pride, we must remember that for decades, LGBTQ+ veterans have waited for formal recognition of their mistreatment.
The stories I’ve heard are heartbreaking. Livelihoods and homes lost, family relations torn apart, medals and other insignia snatched away. Countless others lived in fear of being found out.
Some were even placed on sex offender registers or imprisoned, simply for being gay.
We cannot undo the past. But this Pride Month, the Prime Minister must make an official apology – recognising the historic mistreatment of LGBTQ+ veterans – and commit to help them rebuild their lives.
Yet Rishi Sunak seems to find ‘sorry’ the hardest word to say.
It’s been 18 months since the government commissioned a historic review into the ban, the Etherton Review. Why are we still waiting for it to be published?
Why hasn’t the government even said when it will be published? The radio silence is no way to treat those who contributed to the review, showing immense courage by revisiting traumatic memories.
Labour was proud to lobby the government for a review when Parliament debated the Armed Forces Act, working alongside LGBTQ+ veterans groups like Fighting with Pride who have campaigned tirelessly.
But some are losing faith that the government will act.
The Etherton Review concluded in May. Rishi Sunak has had ample time to make an apology and commit to delivering support to LGBTQ+ veterans. What does it say about his priorities that he hasn’t?
We need action to deliver justice to LGBTQ+ veterans – and soon. They have waited too long.
Etherton’s recommendations should be published, and the government must act.
Since veterans were impacted in different ways by the ban, the support offered needs to be inclusive.
As an openly gay MP, I know we have a responsibility to right these wrongs. If the Conservatives won’t act, then Labour in government will.
Luke Pollard is a member of the Labour and Co-operative parties currently serving as the Member of Parliament for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, as well as the Shadow Minister for the Armed Forces.