Sunak Told to Apologize for UK Treatment of Gay Veterans

(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Rishi Sunak should apologize for the UK’s treatment of gay and trans veterans, according to a government-commissioned review that details a “culture of homophobia” that pervaded the British military for decades.

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The study — slated for publication in the first half of June and seen by Bloomberg — details accounts of electric-shock conversion therapy, intrusive medical examinations and witch-hunts of anyone suspected of being gay in the military during more than three decades through to 2000, when a ban on gay personnel serving in the military was lifted.

The report includes evidence of bullying, blackmail and sexual assaults as well as detailing the significant toll on the mental health of veterans that in some cases led to homelessness and suicide.

One of its core recommendations is for Sunak to make a public apology in Parliament for the historic policy, according to people familiar with the matter who said the premier’s office has received the submission. A spokesperson for the government said it will “carefully consider the findings and respond in due course.” They didn’t say whether the prime minister would accept the recommendation.

It’s not unusual for recent prime ministers to apologize for the policies of past administrations. The Conservative premier David Cameron issued several apologies, including for the Bloody Sunday massacre during the “Irish Troubles” when soldiers shot and killed unarmed civilians. Former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, meanwhile, apologized for the treatment of gay World War II code-breaker Alan Turing. Elsewhere, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized for the country’s own treatment of the LGBTQ community in parliament in 2017.

The report recommended that those affected by the discriminatory policies be compensated for loss of earnings and the distress caused, as well as an examination of their pension rights. Many of them lost their pension entitlements after being dismissed or discharged for being gay. The people said the total compensation bill could be capped at about £50 million ($62 million).

The study adds to the litany of evidence in recent months of discrimination within British institutions and businesses. In March, an investigation found that London’s Metropolitan Police is a breeding ground for racism, sexism and homophobia and has allowed predatory behavior by officers to flourish. Meanwhile Black professionals have told Bloomberg that the City of London has lost its way on the path to racial equality.

The review was commissioned last year during Boris Johnson’s premiership, with a remit to take testimony from those affected by the blanket ban of gay people in the armed forces from 1967 — when homosexuality became legal in Britain — through to January 2000, when the ban was lifted.

‘Incomprehensible Policy’

Terence Etherton, the crossbench member of the House of Lords who led the probe, describes it in a preface as “a unique record of what, to the modern eye, is an incomprehensible policy of homophobic bigotry in our armed forces.”

The UK government has said it accepts that the historic policy was wrong and committed to understand, acknowledge and where appropriate address the effect it has had on LGBTQ veterans. “We are proud of our LGBT+ veterans and grateful for their service in defense of our nation,” a Government spokesperson said.

Etherton’s recommendations also include that the heads of the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force should send individual letters of apology to LGBTQ veterans who served under and suffered from the ban, as well as restoring the commission and rank of the individuals who were dismissed or discharged. Military medals should also be restored, and the wearing of uniforms formally reinstated, he said.

The government should also pay for a public memorial for LGBTQ veterans who served and continue to serve in the military, he said.

It’s not known how many people were impacted by the ban, because the Ministry of Defence failed to keep records of those dismissed or discharged for being gay. It’s estimated to be in the thousands, and 1,128 people who were impacted, including family members and veterans who witnessed the abuse, submitted evidence. Some were as young as 15 years old when they joined the military.

“Promotion and enforcement of the policy by the Ministry of Defence and by many in the senior ranks of the armed forces set the ethos for other serving personnel in all ranks,” Etherton wrote in the report. It’s a “stain on the illustrious history of the UK’s armed forces.”

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