AT the start of Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday Rishi Sunak issued an apology on behalf of the British state for the harm caused by the ban on LGBT people serving in the military between 1967 and 2000. For me, this apology touched a very personal chord.

In the late 1980s, I was close to someone who suffered considerably when she was thrown out of the army for being a lesbian. Someone who had their distinguished and lengthy period of military service cut short, who was humiliated in the process, and found it initially very hard to find employment commensurate with her skills and worth as a human being.

All this happened to her just because she was a woman who loved other women.

More than 30 years on this seems hard to believe. What is perhaps even harder to believe is that the long arm of the state didn’t just interfere with her personal privacy and her right to love who she chose, but it also tried to invade the privacy and sully the dignity of her civilian friends and her lover as the army investigated her life.

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None of us felt there was anyone in authority to whom we could turn to defend our rights. A wave of homophobia was sweeping Scotland and the UK because of the AIDS crisis and Thatcher’s pernicious Section 28. There was no Equality Act and those of us who were same-sex attracted did not enjoy the protection of the law from discrimination or infringement of our human rights.

The ban was not overturned until 2000. Having failed in the courts of England and Wales, four lesbian and gay veterans, discharged because of the ban, took their cases to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Their names were Duncan Lustig-Prean, a supply officer on HMS Newcastle; Jeanette Smith, an RAF nurse; John Beckett, a weapons engineer mechanic; and Graeme Grady, of the RAF, who had been posted to Washington DC.

They were supported by Stonewall, the human rights organisation Liberty and Rank Outsiders, an organisation set up by another veteran, Robert Ely, who was thrown out of the parachute regiment for being gay. After the court considered the facts of their cases in detail it held that the investigations into their homosexuality and their administrative discharge on the sole ground that they were gay constituted a violation of their right to respect for their private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Some of the details the court heard were shocking. As one veteran, Carol Morgan said this week, “we were hounded like animals for our sexuality.” People’s rooms were searched, their most personal belongings were confiscated including letters. Some were imprisoned, beaten, sexually abused. Some were even put through conversion therapy both chemical and psychiatric. Some veterans felt suicidal after their experiences and tragically, some took their own lives.

As a result of the Strasbourg court’s ruling, the UK Labour government announced the end of the ban in January 2000. The four litigants were awarded compensation by the European Court but many others who had suffered like them did not receive any compensation.

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The UK Government did not set up a compensation scheme. Worse still, some ministers called for the ban to be reviewed as soon as possible arguing that without it morale would be damaged. But the ban was gone, and things changed quickly with armed forces personnel marching in uniform at Pride for the first time in 2007.

But still no compensation.

My friend Anya Palmer, the expert discrimination law barrister who then worked for Stonewall, spent eight years working for an end to the ban. She remembers that, after Labour came to power in 1997, the party spent two years defending the ban until the European court ruling. She thinks that the Labour Party also owe the shamed veterans an apology and I think she is right.

Many years after the ban had been overturned and I had become an MP, I attended a dinner organised by the Pink News where the British military were feted as LGBT allies. I left early in disgust. After what I and my friends had experienced, I felt it was completely inappropriate for the organisation to be lavished with praise simply because they had been forced by law to embrace equality and without an accounting for their past wrongs to my community.

Now at last there is some hope that there will be a proper accounting for the wrong that was done. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s (below) apology was prompted by a long-awaited judge-led review and many years of campaigning for justice.

The National: Rishi Sunak said the sacking of gay members of the armed forces was an 'appalling failure' of the

In 2020, specialist charity Fighting With Pride was set up by former Royal Navy officer Craig Jones and former RAF navigator Caroline Paige to right the wrongs of the ban and to seek financial remedies for lost pensions and earnings. Jones and Paige joined veterans to hear the apology in Parliament this week.

They estimate that up to 5000 veterans have been affected both mentally and financially by the ban. Lord Etherton, who led the review into the impact of the ban, has made more than 60 recommendations, including substantial financial reparations.

Fighting With Pride want the immediate creation of a hardship fund to support those with urgent needs and money for people with terminal conditions, followed by a comprehensive compensation scheme to remedy financial losses due to the ban. I support their call.

There are also recommendations on housing and health-related issues which could be taken up by the devolved administrations. I was pleased to see the Scottish Government’s Veterans Minister Graeme Dey say the ban was abhorrent and should never have been in place.

The UK Government’s belated apology was made to the LGBT community, but it was a ban on homosexuality that was at issue.

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The report records that “no distinction was made between transgender and lesbian and gay personnel. The view adopted in the enforcement of the ban was that, if a person was experiencing gender dysphoria, they were either a gay man or a lesbian. For this reason, although the ban was concerned with homosexuality, and therefore with sexual orientation, it also encompassed gender identity.”

This sorry chapter of our history illustrates the importance of universal human rights and legislation prohibiting discrimination on account of sexual orientation and transgender status. It is also a salutary reminder of why so many same-sex attracted people who lived through those times are so vigilant to protect our lives from homophobia in any guise.

This week’s events also show how powerful and important a public governmental apology for past wrongs can be. However, words alone are not enough, they require to be followed up by actions and I hope Lord Etherton’s recommendations, particularly on compensation will be acted upon with expedition.