UK’s Sunak apologises to LGBT military veterans over ban

By Farouq Suleiman

LONDON (Reuters) -British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak apologised on Wednesday to LGBT military veterans who endured sexual abuse, violence, bullying and harassment while serving in the armed forces before a ban on homosexuality was lifted in 2000.

Britain lifted the ban only after the European Court of Human Rights rejected an argument that it was needed to protect morale and fighting power amongst its troops, saying the policy had violated human rights.

Prior to that, many gay people had sought to hide their sexuality or risk being discharged from the armed forces.

An independent review was launched last year to examine the testimonies of LGBT veterans who served between 1967 and 2000 to recognise the impact of the policies. The review was published on Wednesday.

Sunak told a full House of Commons chamber on Wednesday that the ban had been an “appalling failure of the British state”.

“As today’s report makes clear, in that period many endured the most horrific sexual abuse and violence, homophobic bullying and harassment while bravely serving this country,” he said.

“On behalf of the British state, I apologise.”

The report said a public call for evidence had led to more than 1,120 responses being submitted, including about 300 from veterans who were dismissed or discharged because of LGBT same-sex sexual acts and homosexual orientation.

British Defence Minister Ben Wallace said the review had shone a light on “a shameful and unacceptable historical chapter in our Armed Forces history.”

In a statement to parliament, Wallace said the review had made 49 recommendations for the government, including enhanced healthcare provisions for LGBT veterans and a financial award.

The government accepted the vast majority of those recommendations in principle and would respond in full after parliament’s summer break, he said.

Homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967 in England and Wales, and throughout the entire United Kingdom in the early 1980s.

(Reporting by William James, Writing by Farouq Suleiman; editing by Kate Holton and Bernadette Baum)