British soldiers sacked for being gay can get their medals returned, says MOD

The historic ban on being gay in the military was not lifted until 2000.


Words: Jamie Tabberer; picture: Military personnel at Pride In London in 2017 (Sgt Rupert Frere RLC/MoD Crown/© Crown copyright 2013)

Armed Forces personnel who were sacked over their sexuality will now be able to get their medals back, it has been confirmed.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced the new policy today, with soldiers and other employees invited to apply to have forfeited medals returned.

In some cases, the families of deceased personnel affected will be able to apply.

The historic ban on being gay in the military was not lifted until 2000.

“Historic injustice”

Defence Minister Baroness Goldie commented: “It is deeply regrettable that because of their sexuality some members of the Armed Forces were in the past treated in a way that would not be acceptable today.

“As a result of disciplinary action and their dismissal from service, some personnel forfeited medals that they had earned, and others were denied the opportunity of continued service that could have resulted in the restoration of medals that were forfeited for different reasons.

“I am very pleased now to be in a position to address this wrong and to invite any personnel affected or, in some circumstances, the families of those who are deceased to apply to have their medals returned.”

Responding to the news, Ahmed Al-Nahhas, Partner and Head of Military Claims at Bolt Burdon Kemp told Attitude: "We welcome the news that thousands of LGBT+ service personnel will have their service medals restored and their military records amended. Many were dishonourably discharged, removed from their posts and in some cases prosecuted in military courts because of their sexuality. To add insult to injury, this was sometimes done in an abrupt and brutal manner, with medals physically ripped from uniforms.

"We might all find this behaviour abhorrent now, but what may be surprising is that it continued well up until the year 2000. The Ministry of Defence should be commended for trying to turn back the clock on these barbaric attitudes and to encourage veterans to step forward and share their stories. But today we continue to get enquires about this type of discrimination in the armed forces community, and many service personnel feel it necessary to keep their sexuality a secret, concerned about how they will treated by their colleagues and the impact that it may have on their careers.

"What’s the solution? It starts with education. The Ministry of Defence must provide all ranks with clear guidance on how discrimination, in whatever form, is totally unacceptable. Secondly, the military must have an effective service complaints system, so that victims of discrimination feel able and confident to raise complaints. Thirdly, where service personnel are found to have behaved in a discriminatory way, they must be disciplined and brought to justice. LGBT+ service personnel and veterans deserve better treatment and respect."

Minister for Defence People and Veterans Johnny Mercer added: “LGBT personnel have and continue to make significant contributions to the Armed Forces.

“Today's announcement addresses a historic injustice and demonstrates that the military is a positive place to work for all who choose to serve.

“I encourage anyone who may have been affected to apply to have their medals returned.”

All applications will be reviewed individually by the Defence Council and, if approved, the MOD Medal Office will arrange for a new medal to be awarded to the claimant.

Craig Jones and Caroline Page, joint chief executives for Fighting with Pride said in a statement: “Today, LGBT+ veterans are finally beginning their journey back to the military family. Fighting With Pride looks forward to a better future for them, where they are recognised for their service, their health needs are supported and they are recompensed for the wrongs of the past.

“We are also pleased to see the Government’s further commitment to investigate the long term impact of being dismissed from our Armed Forces, particularly in regard to the health, housing and employment of LGBT+ veterans, many of whom today still live in poverty and beyond the protections of the Armed Forces Covenant.”

The news, announced to coincide with LGBT History Month, follows US President Joe Biden's reversal of predecessor Donald Trump's trans military ban.

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