Itâs 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, Iâm Claudia and this is the Sensemaker.
One story, every day, to make sense of the world.
Today, the militaryâs slow march to keep up with society.
âI was 21 when I walked through the gates at Britannia Royal Naval college Dartmouth and I was really excited about my careerâŠâCraig Jones, Fighting With Pride
This is Craig Jones. It was 1989 and heâd just started his career in the Royal Navy.
âIt 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.âCraig Jones, Fighting With Pride
Being gay in the miltary in the 1980s was a problem. In fact, it was illegal.
âSo 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.âCraig Jones, Fighting With Pride
Craig Jones did go on to travel the world.Â
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 âthe troublesâ, he went to Northern Ireland â where he was involved in an armed boarding of a fishing vessel.
âI went on board with a Royal Ulster Constabulary policeman and it just didnât feel right. There was nobody there.âCraig Jones, Fighting With Pride
At first it seemed to be deserted.
âWe drew our pistols and I put my head down the hatch to see what was going on.âCraig Jones, Fighting With Pride
ââŠthere were two older teenage lads on a mattress in each otherâs 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.âCraig 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.
âAnd 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 Iâd 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.âCraig Jones, Fighting With Pride
Heâd 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.
âI think that brings military efficiency to dating.âCraig Jones, Fighting With Pride
Itâd 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 âhomosexual actsâ in England and Wales. Â Â
And thatâs why Craig Jones had no choice but to keep his private life private while in the military.Â
So, why has it been so slow to modernise?
âFor new recruits to the army, itâs ok to be gay as long as they donât flaunt it. Thatâs the essence of a new code of behaviour introduced by service chiefs after the European Court of Human Rights said the forceâs ban on homosexuals was illegal.âKevin Dunn, ITN
In September 1999, after years of legal wrangling, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the militaryâs âgay banâ 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 âdismissed in disgraceâ because of their sexuality.Â
Some were taken to military hospitals where they were subjected to degrading and shameful medical inspections that could last for days.
âMany of our veterans live their lives impoverished. They didnât have the opportunity of earning their military pensions and their careers were shattered by prison sentences and by criminal convictionsâŠ Many of them also lost their own families because they were outed and lots of military people come from military familiesâŠâCraig 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 wasnât until this year that that an independent review into the impact the ban had on peopleâs lives was officially launched.
âIn the last few months weâve had hundreds of veterans come to us and say, I thought I was on my own. I didnât realise you existed.âCraig Jones, Fighting With Pride
Fighting with Pride wants to see LGBT + veterans given compensation and their lost pensions reviewed and restored.
âOfficers 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 againâŠâCraig Jones, Fighting With Pride
Craig Jones wants people like him to get a full and genuine apology on behalf of the nation.Â
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.Â
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.Â Â
Yet in all their adverts, the armed forces are keen to present themselves as a place for everyone.
âI 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 doesnât relate to the wonderful organisations that exist today, which offer brilliant careers.âCraig Jones, Fighting With Pride
Whatâs clear is that actually changing a culture takes a lot longer than changing a law.Â
Todayâs story was written and produced by Imy Harper.
The Ministry of Untruths
Boris Johnsonâs history of lies â and the story of one crucial fortnight in March 2020