Veterans who were expunged from the military because of their sexuality or forced to lead double lives have welcomed a review into their treatment, but said the fact it has taken 22 years is “a national disgrace”.
The Cabinet Office has launched an independent review which will hear the stories of military personnel who were stripped of their armed forces jobs and medals under homophobic laws that were in place until January 12, 2000.
Following the review, the Office for Veterans’ Affairs which is part of the Cabinet department, will be working with charities to improve the support offered to veterans who were impacted by the ban.
This includes many who faced criminal convictions, prison sentences, and “dismissals in disgrace”.
Craig Jones, co-director of Fighting With Pride – a charity which supports LGBT veterans, is working with the review and welcomed its launch, but described it as a “national disgrace” that it had taken so long for it to happen.
Mr Jones, a former Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy, told the PA news agency he revealed his sexuality on the day the ban was lifted because he felt a “sense of duty” to others in the military who fought against it.
The 53-year-old, who now lives with his husband, Adam Mason, in Brighton Sussex, said: “I was deputy navigator on HMS Invincible and whenever I brought that ship into port, I always looked at the jetty to see if there was any police on the jetty.
“You can imagine what a huge distraction that is from from your professional job, because I was always waiting for day when the police would take me away.
“But I came out on that day because I felt a sense of duty to the remarkably courageous men and women who fought to lift the ban.
“They had lost everything.
“They’d lost their health and they’d lost their jobs and they’d lost their pensions and their peace of mind to some extent, but they still fought for justice and for my right, for my opportunity of service in the armed forces.
“I think the UK armed forces today are the best in the world for LGBT plus inclusion, but nothing has been done for those who were dismissed in disgrace, and it’s a national disgrace that nothing had been done.”
Mr Jones, who was deployed to Northern Ireland during the Troubles and Arabia during the Gulf War, said he hopes that following the review the Government provides compensation for lost pensions, issues a full apology on behalf of the nation, and invests in much-needed support services for LGBT veterans.
Kevin Bazeley, 54, was dismissed from his role as an RAF navigator in 1995 under the ban because of his sexuality, and said the experience left an emotional “scar” on him.
Mr Bazeley, from Banbury in Oxfordshire, said he successfully took his case for compensation to the European Court of Human Rights but was paid only a “symbolic amount” in damages.
The veteran, now an accountant living in Worcestershire, told PA: “The Royal Air Force was the only career I ever wanted to have, so to have that suddenly stripped from me without warning for something that I had no control over was just crushing, totally humiliating.
“I was met and escorted off of an aircraft and taken off to the police station and it makes you feel very small and very unwanted.
“That whole process of my dismissal left a scar on me.
“I’m still having counselling today for issues that my therapist and I agree dates back to that dismissal.”
Mr Bazeley welcomed the review but said it has been “far too long coming” and the Government must apologise to the veterans.
He said: “There are many who are still living with humiliation and the poverty caused by their discharge.
“It’s been 22 years since the ban was lifted and all of those who suffered deserve their compensation. It’s been far too long coming.
“I would like to see a personal apology from the Government to all of those veterans who lost their careers and their futures and their friendships, from the nation that they volunteered to serve.”
Defence minister Leo Docherty said the review will ensure the Government learns from veterans’ experiences.
Mr Docherty said: “While the modern military embraces the LGBT community, it is important that we learn from the experiences of LGBT veterans who were affected by the pre-2000 ban.
“This review will allow the voices of veterans to be heard and importantly will help us better tailor support to the community.”
The Cabinet Office has said the review’s chair will give further details on how veterans will be able to contribute to the review.
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