The Prime Minister has apologised for the “horrific” historical treatment of LGBT people who served in the military under the pre-2000 ban on homosexuality in the armed forces.
The apology was made after a recommendation from a Government-commissioned independent review into the service and experience of LGBT veterans who served in the armed forces between 1967 and 2000.
The review, carried out by Lord Etherton, former master of the rolls and head of civil justice, was published on Wednesday and made 49 recommendations to the Government, including making an “appropriate financial award” to affected veterans.
Rishi Sunak told the Commons: “The ban on LGBT people serving in our military until the year 2000 was an appalling failure of the British state decades behind the law of this land.
“As today’s report makes clear, in that period many endured the most horrific sexual abuse and violence, homophobic bullying and harassment, all while bravely serving this country.
“Today, on behalf of the British state, I apologise.”
He added: “I hope all those affected will be able to feel proud parts of the veteran community that has done so much to keep our country safe.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said his party was “proud to repeal the ban” on LGBT personnel serving in the forces when it was in office.
He said: “Today, we strongly welcome this apology from the Prime Minister as a recognition of their historic mistreatment.”
In a written statement to Parliament, defence secretary Ben Wallace said the review received “shocking and emotive” testimonies – 1,128 in total – and he hopes the apology “will be the start of them receiving long overdue acknowledgement”.
Lord Etherton said the report is a “unique record of what, to the modern eye, is an incomprehensible policy of homophobic bigotry in our armed forces”.
But he said: “The armed forces today are a very different environment in terms of greater diversity and inclusion.”
Describing the contribution of statements given by victims of the ban, he said: “Those statements give shocking evidence of a culture of homophobia and of bullying, blackmail and sexual assaults, abusive investigations into sexual orientation and sexual preference, disgraceful medical examinations, including conversion therapy, peremptory discharges, and appalling consequences in terms of mental health and wellbeing, homelessness, employment, personal relationships and financial hardship.”
Lord Etherton’s report said: “Many of the veterans who suffered from the ban are elderly, in poor mental and physical health and in financial need.
“They have already waited for a minimum of 23 years for justice and restitution. Any further delay can only be to their detriment.”
Among its recommendations, it said: “The Prime Minister should deliver an apology in the UK Parliament on behalf of the nation to all those LGBT service personnel who served under and suffered from the ban (whether or not they were dismissed or discharged).”
It added: “An appropriate financial award should be made to affected veterans notwithstanding the expiry of litigation time limits.
“The Government’s overall exposure should be capped at £50m.”
The report also recommended that commission and rank should be retrospectively restored to what it was immediately before dismissals or discharges related to the pre-2000 ban, that medals should be restored, a public memorial should be created and a veterans’ badge should be granted to those who served at the time of the ban.
Referencing the apology, LGBT armed forces charity Fighting With Pride said it a “truly historic day”.
Former British Army officer Catherine Dixon, now vice-chairwoman at LGBT charity Stonewall, said: “Today’s apology and announcements are an important step to achieving justice for those LGBTQ+ people who served in HM armed forces and, like me, experienced shame, humiliation and a ruined military career because of our sexuality.
“Many were imprisoned, experienced corrective violence and lived with the stain of criminal convictions because of who they loved and which left some homeless and many unable to work.”