British military veterans who were dishonourably discharged from the military because of their sexual or gender orientation and lost all awards are to be rehabilitated and honoured again. In doing so, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) wants to correct a “historical injustice”.

Under a new programme to redress historical injustices, all unjustly discharged soldiers are to be given the opportunity to reclaim their medals and awards. Next week, as part of LGBT History Month, former army officer and Veterans Affairs Minister Johnny Mercer will invite all former servicemen and women to contact the Ministry of Defence (MoD) if they have been denied or stripped of awards.

On Facebook, Mercer wrote that he was

“shocked that some of our people have not been able to enjoy their time in the military as I have and that they have suffered serious injustice simply because they were gay. The Department of Veterans Affairs is reimagining the UK’s relationship with its veterans, which includes this historic injustice.”

It is not known how many people will be affected by the new measures because the MoD has reportedly not kept records of servicemen* who have been discharged from the army because of their sexual orientation or gender expression.

 

Complaint by Navy veteran sets ball rolling

The ball was set rolling by bisexual Navy veteran Joe Ousalice. It was Ousalice who first brought to public attention the Ministry of Defence’s policy of continuing to harass soldiers by stripping them of their awards. Ousalice, who had served in the Falkland Islands, Northern Ireland and the Middle East during his 17-year career, was discharged from the military in 1995 because of his sexual orientation. He was stripped of all the awards he had earned.

 

The decision by the Ministry of Defence to dishonourably discharge him from the navy had a devastating impact on his life. His friends turned their backs on him, he lost his home and became homeless. For years, Ousalice tried in vain to convince the MoD to give him back his award. In an interview with the BBC, Joe Ousalice tells how isolated and abandoned he felt after the dishonourable discharge.

It was only when Ousalice went to court in 2019 that the Ministry of Defence relented. Ousalice received his Long Service and Good Conduct medal back. Since then, he has been campaigning with the Centre for Military Justice, a legal advice service for veterans, to change the law so that others who have suffered similar things are also rehabilitated and have their awards returned.

The Centre for Military Justice is also calling for all soldiers whose military pensions were reduced by the army’s homophobic policies to be able to claim the pensions they should have received in the first place.

 

Background: “Don’t ask, don’t tell” in the British armed forces

 

Homosexuality was banned in the British Army until 2000 because it was feared that allowing homosexuals would undermine the morale and operational effectiveness of the armed forces. Until the ban was lifted on 12 January 2000, anyone found to be homosexual or trans* was dishonourably discharged. In some cases, the individuals concerned were also stripped of their decorations and had to return their medals.

It was only in 2017 that the House of Commons made amendments to the so-called “Policing and Crime Bill” and passed the so-called “Turing Bill”, named after the computer pioneer Alan Turing. The government apologised retrospectively to all men convicted of sexual offences under laws that have since been repealed (we reported). Some 49,000 deceased gay and bisexual men were posthumously pardoned. Soldiers still alive were given the opportunity to apply for legal rehabilitation and have the convictions for sexual offences removed from their records.

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  • 1080px-UK_military_London_Pride: By LA(Phot) Simmo Simpson / OGL 3 / wikimedia.org

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