The government has publicly apologised for the first time for its treatment of LGBTQ people under Britain's historic LGBTQ military ban.
Speaking at a parliamentary reception on Thursday (9 January) to mark the 20th anniversary of the ban being lifted, Minister for Defence People and Veterans Johnny Mercer apologised for the "unacceptable" persecution of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender personnel serving in the British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.
The MP Plymouth Moor View, himself a veteran of Britain's Armed Forces, told the assembled crowd of LGBTQ military veterans and active servicemen: "We have come a long way and today is a celebration of that. But we cannot do that without acknowledging the true extent of those times on many of you.
"Change is never easy. Change is hard-fought-for by some stoic individuals for whom I have supreme respect. Their experiences of serving in the armed forces were completely different to my own, and nowhere near what I would have wanted them to be.
"Volunteering to serve is an act of bravery in itself; to volunteer for the chaotic, challenging nature of service life and yet within that community, which so many of us are so proud of, experience discrimination of this sort is unacceptable.
Special day as we kick off a weekend of celebrations to mark 20yrs since lifting the ridiculous ban on LGBT+ people serving in the military. I’m sorry for the experiences you had pre 2000; our Military is far better, far more effective, and better reflects our values, with you. pic.twitter.com/amWfMNqBX5— Johnny Mercer (@JohnnyMercerUK) January 9, 2020
"It was unacceptable then, and it is unacceptable now. And as the Minister for Defence People and Veterans, I wanted to personally apologise to you for those experiences."
He added: "Progress has been hard-fought, and it is now irreversible."
Its estimated that hundreds - and possibly thousands - of LGBTQ military personnel were ejected from the British Armed Forces because of their sexuality or gender identiy prior to the ban's end in January 2000.
Loved signing off the new decor for @DefenceHQ Main Building to celebrate 20 years since we lifted the ridiculous ban on LGBT+ people serving. Hope you like the improvements. 😊 https://t.co/qAAcI3jZrW— Johnny Mercer (@JohnnyMercerUK) January 10, 2020
The ban was lifted by Tony Blair's Labour government following a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in 1999. A
Mr Mercer confirmed that in honour of the anniversary of the ban's end this Sunday (12 January), the Pride flag would be flown over the main Ministry of Defence building in London, with the sides of the building also lit up in rainbow colours.
"We know prejudice isn't just wrong, it's counterproductive", he said. "You can't fight a war if you're too busy focusing on someone's sexuality or gender identity."
RAF serviceman Michael Pattison opens up about life as a bisexual man in the RAF in Attitude's February Travel issue, out now (Photography: Markus Bidaux)
Meanwhile, we're mark the 20th anniversary since the removal of Britain's LGBTQ military ban in Attitude's February Travel issue - out now to download and to order globally - by speaking to Royal Air Force serviceman Maichael Pattison, who opens up about life in the RAF as a bisexual man in 2020.
Read the full feature in Attitude's February issue, out now.