Members of the British military who were dismissed because of their sexuality will get back the medals which were stripped from them.
Announcing the decision, the Ministry of Defence said that it was correcting a “historic injustice” in which those who had served their country, often in combat, were thrown out of the forces, with some also serving prison sentences.
The move follows a successful battle by Falklands and Northern Ireland veteran Joe Ousalice to have the awards restored after he was forced out of the Royal Navy in 1983, following 18 years of service, for being bisexual.
Mr Ousalice was among 200 to 250 men and women who were kicked out, on average, each year from the three services. Gay people were banned from serving in the British military until 2000.
Those who had suffered under the rules and LGBT+ rights activists welcomed the government’s move, but stressed that other issues such as criminal records and pension rights needed to be addressed urgently.
The MoD said that it was taking further steps “to examine and understand the wide-ranging impact of pre-2000 practices in the armed forces”, which would ensure that “beyond the return of medals, the impact of this historical wrong is acknowledged and appropriately addressed”.
Each application to have medals restored will be reviewed by the defence council, with the MoD’s medal office arranging new honours to be awarded to those who are successful. Relatives of former personnel affected by the ban but who have since died will also be able to make applications for a review.
Describing his experience in an interview, Mr Ousalice, 70, said: “Basically, when they take your medal from you, the medal effectively decrees what you get for your pension. By taking my medal and three good conduct badges that I had, my rank was cut. I had to wait until 60 before drawing a pension, whereas I could have got it immediately.”
Mr Ousalice had to live “a double life”. He recalled: “I had to be careful about what I said and did, and where I went. Basically, I wasn’t living my own life.”
His medal was cut off his chest with a “big pair of scissors” when he was dismissed, he said.
Craig Jones, the joint chief executive of Fighting with Pride, an LGBT+ support group, described the move on medals as the “first step on a journey” towards justice.
“People’s lives were shattered by the ban. 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,” he said.
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