Veterans have spoken out about the staggering impact of the military’s “gay ban,” which led to a spate of arrests and firings.
Service personnel suspected of being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender were previously subjected to intensive interrogation and rigorous medical examinations.
People lost their careers and their pensions and were told never to use their military rank or wear their uniform again.
Some even served time in prison for the military crime of homosexuality.
The names of those affected were removed from the staff’s ‘retired list’ and many were ‘outed’ to family and friends in the course of the investigation, meaning they were also lost.
Tremaine Cornish, an Army Command veteran, said the ban on homosexuals led to severe mental recoveries.
He had joined the armed forces in 1971 to get away from his abusive father.
Tremaine knew he was gay before signing up, but was unaware of the military’s ban on homosexuality.
His officers eventually found out about his sexual orientation and he was forced to leave.
He said: “Being forced out of the armed forces without taking to the streets without help, shelter or support has had a disastrous impact on my mental well-being and caused malignant damage to my self-esteem.
“Many of us have been left completely on our own and have not been able to return to our families.”
Tremaine has spoken out about his harrowing experience amid a major update from the UK government.
It was announced today that The Rt Hon The Lord Etherton QC will lead an official review of the military ban.
The review was launched in January and will now begin its year-long investigation following the appointment of its chair.
Lord Etherton made history himself when he became the first openly gay Justice of the Supreme Court.
Tremaine added, “I hope this review can repair the damage and compensate for the loss and that their recommendations are fully considered.”
Sharon Hudson, a veteran of the Women’s Royal Army Corps, also witnessed firsthand the crackdown on LGBTQ+ people within the armed forces.
She had revealed her sexuality after being severely bullied by male soldiers and military investigators.
She had earned the title of Lance Corporal when she was ordered to leave.
“Being fired for my sexuality has taken a toll on my mental health,” Sharon said.
“I lied to my family for 40 years because I was ashamed.
“I hope this review rightes the wrongs for all affected by the ban and we can be proud to have served.”
Elaine Chambers, a veteran of Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps, is similarly optimistic.
She was working in Germany when she was suddenly asked about her sexuality.
Officers from the military’s Special Intelligence Branch “investigated” for five months before ordering Elaine to leave.
She said: “This review, if done truly independently and in a timely manner, has opened a door that I thought was firmly closed.
“And it restores a cautious optimism that some kind of meaningful restorative justice can finally be achieved.”
At the time of the gay ban, many armed forces charities were unwilling to help those affected due to their status as “dismissed in disgrace”.
Lord Etherton, a Crossbench member of the House of Lords, says he will ensure veterans under the review can now share testimonies in a “safe environment”.
He added: “This will allow me to make appropriate recommendations on how the government can fulfill its obligation to ensure that the experiences of all veterans are understood and valued.”
Activists hope the review can lead to better mental health support and possible compensation for the devastation caused.
Fighting With Pride, a charity supporting LGBTQ+ veterans, welcomed today’s announcement that Lord Etherton will lead the review.
The organization aims to connect service charities and organizations to the veterans “left behind” as a result of the military interdiction.
Joint chief executives Caroline Paige and Craig Jones MBE said in a statement: “This appointment brings hope to thousands of LGBT+ veterans whose lives were – and still are – impacted by the ban. More than 22 years have passed since the ban was lifted.
“The appointment of a chair for the review is an important step, but there is still work to be done to restore confidence and make meaningful redress.”
“This review must bring hope for a brighter future to those living with the consequences of the ban.”
The ban was lifted on January 12, 2000 after years of legal wrangling.
Elaine and her veteran Robert Ely – both of whom had been discharged from the armed forces for their sexuality – formed the campaign group Rank Outsiders in 1991.
They helped campaign to have the ban lifted and took their case to the Supreme Court in 1998.
Although initially kicked out, they then, with Stonewall’s support, took it to the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in favor of overturning the decision.
In January 2000, the ban was lifted completely and LGBT!+ people could openly serve in the armed forces.
Twenty-two years later, the government has begun making some reparations to honor those whose lives were shattered by the “gay ban.”
Last year, the Department of Defense announced that veterans could reclaim confiscated medals, and the Secretary of Defense for People and Veterans issued a personal apology statement.
But although ministers have promised “recognition and compensation” for the thousands affected by years of illegal ban, charities and campaigners say little has been done to address the ban’s wider implications.
UK Government Defense Secretary Leo Docherty said today: “The historic ban was wrong and those who were kicked out of the military solely because of their sexuality suffered and we recognize that.
“This review will help us better understand the implications and I am pleased that the senior Lord Etherton will be chairing it.
‘We look forward to the outcome of the review and consideration of the recommendations.’
Just this week, Olympic legend Dame Kelly Holmes came out as gay at the age of 52.
The sporting icon said she realized she was gay in 1988, aged 17, while a soldier in the Women’s Royal Army Corps, and kissed a comrade.
However, she kept that part of herself hidden for fear of prosecution because of the military ban.
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