It’s been more than 20 years since the British military lifted their ban on gay people serving, so why are LGBT+ veterans still waiting for compensation?
Claudia williams, narrating:
Hello, I’m Claudia and this is the Sensemaker.
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Today, the military’s slow march to keep up with society.
“I was 21 when I walked through the gates at Britannia Royal Naval college Dartmouth and I was really excited about my career…”Craig Jones, Fighting With Pride
This is Craig Jones. It was 1989 and he’d just started his career in the Royal Navy.
“It was going to be really fantastic, I was going to travel the world and do exciting things, but as I walked through those gates to go up the hill at the Naval college, I knew I was gay.”Craig Jones, Fighting With Pride
Being gay in the miltary in the 1980s was a problem. In fact, it was illegal.
“So I walked up that hill and I left the bit of me that was gay outside the main gate and it stayed like that for a period of years.”Craig Jones, Fighting With Pride
Craig Jones did go on to travel the world.
He was part of counter drug operations in the Caribbean, he led helicopter fast rope teams in the Northern Arabian Gulf, and then, towards the end of ‘the troubles’, he went to Northern Ireland – where he was involved in an armed boarding of a fishing vessel.
“I went on board with a Royal Ulster Constabulary policeman and it just didn’t feel right. There was nobody there.”Craig Jones, Fighting With Pride
At first it seemed to be deserted.
“We drew our pistols and I put my head down the hatch to see what was going on.”Craig Jones, Fighting With Pride
“…there were two older teenage lads on a mattress in each other’s arms. And I was quite shocked initially. I was in body armour and stuff. So I protected them from the IUC officer who would have arrested them.”Craig Jones, Fighting With Pride
Until that moment, on a fishing vessel off the coast of Northern Ireland, Craig Jones had never met anyone else who was gay before.
“And I went back to my cabin onboard my ship after that boarding operation, I closed the door and I, I held my head in shame because what I’d just seen was two young men, finding the courage to live the best life that they could in Northern Ireland in those days and here I was with my kevlar helmet and my body armour and my pistol, and I felt dishonest.”Craig Jones, Fighting With Pride
He’d been living a life of secrecy.
Six weeks later, at the end of his tour, Craig Jones walked into a gay bar for the first time. While there, he met the man who go on to become his husband.
“I think that brings military efficiency to dating.”Craig Jones, Fighting With Pride
It’d be another five years until the ban on gay people serving in the military would be lifted on the 12th of January 2000, which itself came 33 years after the legalisation of “homosexual acts” in England and Wales.
And that’s why Craig Jones had no choice but to keep his private life private while in the military.
So, why has it been so slow to modernise?
“For new recruits to the army, it’s ok to be gay as long as they don’t flaunt it. That’s the essence of a new code of behaviour introduced by service chiefs after the European Court of Human Rights said the force’s ban on homosexuals was illegal.”Kevin Dunn, ITN
In September 1999, after years of legal wrangling, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the military’s ‘gay ban’ broke the convention that safeguards a right to privacy.
But in the years that followed, little was done to address the wider impact the ban had on an estimated 5,000 service men and women, many of whom had been kicked out or ‘dismissed in disgrace’ because of their sexuality.
Some were taken to military hospitals where they were subjected to degrading and shameful medical inspections that could last for days.
“Many of our veterans live their lives impoverished. They didn’t have the opportunity of earning their military pensions and their careers were shattered by prison sentences and by criminal convictions… Many of them also lost their own families because they were outed and lots of military people come from military families…”Craig Jones, Fighting With Pride
And so along with others, Craig Jones founded the charity Fighting With Pride in 2020, to support LGBT Plus veterans, serving personnel, and their families.
He set it up 20 years after the ban on gay people serving in the military was lifted but it wasn’t until this year that that an independent review into the impact the ban had on people’s lives was officially launched.
“In the last few months we’ve had hundreds of veterans come to us and say, I thought I was on my own. I didn’t realise you existed.”Craig Jones, Fighting With Pride
Fighting with Pride wants to see LGBT + veterans given compensation and their lost pensions reviewed and restored.
“Officers were removed from the retired lists of the armed forces. They need to be put back on. People need letters which will enable them to wear their uniform again, for example, their berets, if they march at the cenotaph, or to use their ranks. They were forbidden from using their military ranks ever again…”Craig Jones, Fighting With Pride
Craig Jones wants people like him to get a full and genuine apology on behalf of the nation.
Because even though the ban was lifted more than twenty years ago, the culture in the armed forces has been slow to change, both towards LGBT + personnel and more broadly.
Women have only been able to serve in all military roles since 2018, and a major report last year found the majority had faced bullying or sexual harassment.
Yet in all their adverts, the armed forces are keen to present themselves as a place for everyone.
“I would strongly encourage people to join our armed forces. What I talk about today is the history of the armed forces and the impact upon veterans. It doesn’t relate to the wonderful organisations that exist today, which offer brilliant careers.”Craig Jones, Fighting With Pride
What’s clear is that actually changing a culture takes a lot longer than changing a law.
Today’s story was written and produced by Imy Harper.
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