opinion

'LGBTQ veterans dismissed from the British Armed Forces deserved better - it's time their voices were heard'

As the government announces a review into the treatment of LGBTQ service personnel pre-2000, Minister for Defence People and Veterans Leo Docherty writes exclusively for Attitude.

2022-01-17

Words: Leo Docherty; Image: UK Parliament

Each year, the month of January grows in significance for Britain’s LGBT military personnel.

On the 12 January 2020, we marked the 20th anniversary of LGBT colleagues being allowed to serve openly in the armed forces. On that day two years ago, key military sites nationwide were lit up in rainbow colours to celebrate the contribution that LGBT personnel have made, and continue to make, to keeping this country and its citizens safe. 

Today we mark another important milestone in the launch of our veterans’ strategy, with its key aim of stepping up support for former service personnel. This includes an independent review into the impact of the pre-2000 ban on homosexuality in the armed forces on LGBT veterans. 

As a former Scots Guardsman, and now a defence minister, I welcome the changes I have seen in the armed forces over the past two decades. 

Leo Docherty has served as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence People and Veterans since 2021. He has been the Conservative MP for Aldershot since June 2017.

The pre-2000 ban was wrong and unjust. It caused hurt and fear for so many serving personnel – brave people who, let us not forget, had stepped forward to protect Britain and were prepared to lay down their lives in defence of their country. They deserved so much better.

Through the independent review, we will gain a better understanding of the experiences of LGBT veterans while the ban was in place, and the effect it has since had on their lives. During the ban, many individuals were dismissed from service, while others had to live their lives hiding who they truly were. 

The review will allow people’s voices to be heard and will build on the campaigning work done by several LGBT organisations over many years. Armed with its findings, the government will know the kind of support LGBT veterans need, and will be better placed to ensure those affected can access it. 

While there are still challenges, I’m glad to say that the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force are modern and diverse employers in which LGBT personnel serve openly with pride.

Over 20 years ago, being gay would have led to a dishonourable discharge. No longer. Civil partnered couples now receive the same benefits as married couples, and since 2019, same-sex couples have been able to co-habit in all military accommodation. 

The MOD has appointed an LGBT champion, and across the defence family a number of military and civilian LGBT staff networks offer support for personnel. 

And in our efforts to address historic wrongs, since February last year, anyone discharged from the military because of their sexuality has been able to apply to reclaim any medals they had to give up.

We know that there is much still to do as we step up our overall government support for all our ex-military personnel. But the independent review will focus on listening to LGBT veterans in particular about the ban and its toxic effect on their future relationships, their chances of getting a civilian job, and their financial circumstances. 

We also want to ensure that LGBT veterans are fully recognised and accepted within the armed forces community after giving such distinguished service over the years. We are at the start of our work – but the Office for Veterans’ Affairs is wholly committed to the mission.

Leo Docherty has served as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence People and Veterans since 2021. He has been the Conservative MP for Aldershot since June 2017.