LGBT vets wrongly kicked out of army should be given medals back and money, government review to say

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Thousands of LGBT veterans who have been kicked out of the military should be given their medals back and compensation, a government review will say.

Lord Etheron report, which is being funded by the government, is due to published imminently and will detail examples of how those in the armed forces were forced out.

The document will recommend veterans are compensated financially for the loss of wages and pension earnings, according to The Sun

It will also argue that medals should be returned to the ex-soldiers and an end to uniform bans at ceremonies is also believed to be on the agenda.

As many as 20,000 soldiers are estimated to have been discharged before the LGBT ban was lifted in 2000.

Thousands of LGBT veterans who have been kicked out of the military should be given their medals back and compensation, a government review will say

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will be under pressure to apologise to the ex-soldiers who were thrown out during the armed forces of the so-called 'gay ban'. A number of those who were expelled faced financial hardship after losing their job and pension and stripped of their honours

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will be under pressure to apologise to the ex-soldiers who were thrown out during the armed forces of the so-called ‘gay ban’. A number of those who were expelled faced financial hardship after losing their job and pension and stripped of their honours

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will be under pressure to apologise to the ex-soldiers who were thrown out during the armed forces of the so-called ‘gay ban’.

A number of those who were expelled faced financial hardship after losing their job and pension and stripped of their honours.

A government spokesperson said: ‘We are proud of our LGBT+ veterans and grateful for their service in defence of our nation.

‘The treatment of LGBT serving personnel pre 2000 was wholly unacceptable and does not reflect today’s Armed Forces.

‘We can confirm that Lord Etherton has concluded his independent review and submitted his report to the government.’

In 2022, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace commissioned a report led by retired judge Lord Etherton and has since been interviewing those who have suffered from the scandal.

One ex-servicewomen who was interviewed was Carol Morgan, who had signed up to the army in 1978 and had served for 22 years after being dismissed.

After falling in love with a female soldier, Ms Morgan was reported by a colleague to her bosses and had to endure a four-day investigation which included psychiatric tests, having her bunk searched and questions about her sex life.

She said: ‘I had signed up for 22 years of my life, and in just four days it was snatched away from us.’

Kicked out of the military for being gay: Ex-servicemen and women reveal how they were arrested, court martialled and even put on the sex offenders register after their sexuality was discovered – despite exemplary service

ByKathryn Knight

Even 41 years on, David Kelsey can recall the anger and burning humiliation he felt as he handed over his army kit to his regimental sergeant major.

After six years serving with the Royal Engineers – including a six-month tour of Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles in the late seventies – he had been imprisoned for five months, court martialled and was now being discharged with disgrace.

His ‘crime?’ Kelsey had been spotted at a local gay bar at a time when being homosexual in the armed forces was against the rules – and the final ignominy was to come: ‘We need your medal’, David, now 60, was told.

That medal was a recognition of what he had done in the name of his country in Northern Ireland – facing daily threats of car bombs and snipers as he undertook roadside and helicopter patrols.

‘I had stood in the line of fire in the same way as the straight man next to me,’ he says. ‘But it counted for nothing.’

David Kelsey, pictured, now 60, was kicked out of the army and court martialled for being gay, after six years of service in the Royal Engineers

Dave took part in a six-month tour of Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles in the late seventies as part of his military career. Pictured during his service

David Kelsey was kicked out of the army and court martialled for being gay, after six years of service in the Royal Engineers. Pictured, David today (left) and in uniform (right)

Little wonder his sense of injustice burns to this day – shared by thousands of fellow gay servicemen who were subjected to similarly callous treatment.

Prior to 2000, gay people were not allowed to serve in the military, and those that did and who were ‘outed’ were not only often imprisoned, but forced to leave and surrender the awards they had won in the line of duty.

In some instances, they were forcibly ripped from their uniforms.

It has taken years of tireless campaigning by gay rights organisations to address what veterans minister Johnny Mercer last week acknowledged was a ‘historic injustice’. 

Last week, he announced a new scheme in which former members of the military who were ousted for being gay will be able to apply to have their service medals restored.

For David Kelsey and other gay veterans, it is long overdue.

Many have spent a lifetime labouring under the shadow cast by their treatment, which in some instances extended to them being given a criminal record – making it almost impossible for them to find an alternative career.

In the majority of instances – and in language chillingly evocative of McCarthy era America – a mere ‘report’ about their sexuality was enough to lead to invasive questioning, no-corners-left-unturned investigations and in some instances invasive body searches.

RAF fireman Carl Austin-Behan OBE's commanding officers had little choice but to dismiss him when they learned that he too was gay, despite an exemplary service record during his six years' service. Pictured, Carl today

Carl, pictured during his career, was only a year into his service when he rescued a pilot from a fireball that had engulfed his plane

RAF fireman Carl Austin-Behan OBE’s commanding officers had little choice but to dismiss him when they learned that he too was gay, despite an exemplary service record during his six years’ service. Pictured, Carl today (left) and while a serving member of the military (right)

‘A report’ was the word David Kelsey, now a Conservative councillor in Bournemouth, remembers was used by the officers who came to arrest him as he prepared the midday meals at his barracks in Hamlyn one summer morning in 1982.

Then just 21, David, who had signed up aged 16 following in the footsteps of his three older brothers, had been spotted coming out of a local gay bar.

Questioned by the military police, he initially refused to co-operate. ‘I denied it for three days flat – I thought they had no proof, even though they had done their homework. Then on the third day they produced a statement from a local and I realised that there was nothing else I could do.’

David was placed in a local guard house for five months before he was court martialled in October 1982 by a judge who made clear his belief that David’s sexuality had little to do with his ability to be a soldier. Nonetheless bound by the rules, he had no choice but to discharge him in disgrace.

Royal Navy Police officer James Lindsay said he was lucky to avoid being court martialled when he was investigated for being gay during his service in the 1970s. Pictured, James Lindsay today

Lindsay, pictured in 1977

Royal Navy Police officer James Lindsay said he was lucky to avoid being court martialled when he was investigated for being gay during his service in the 1970s. Pictured, James Lindsay today (left) and in 1977 (right)

Those same rules meant former RAF fireman Carl Austin-Behan OBE’s commanding officers had little choice but to dismiss him when they learned that he too was gay, despite an exemplary service record during his six years’ service which had led to him being given a civilian award for bravery, a commendation from the Commander-in-Chief and a mention in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

Only a year into his service, aged 20, Carl had heroically rescued a pilot from a fireball that had engulfed his plane – after it crashed onto the runway at RAF Chivenor in Devon, Carl selflessly clambered on top to rescue the second pilot who remained trapped inside after his ejector seat had failed to engage.

‘The heat was intense – the mask had melted onto the pilot’s face,’ he recalls. ‘There were bits of debris flying around me – I remember something ricocheted onto my helmet and cracking my visor. Adrenaline just took over.’

Yet despite being garlanded for his courage, when his superior officers learned he was gay – a boyfriend had reported him in the hope it would merely avoid him being posted overseas – his flourishing career was over in a matter of minutes.

‘I was gone within twenty minutes,’ he recalls. ‘I think I was “lucky” that my achievements meant I avoided a court martial, but I’d lost everything I knew – my support network, my comrades, my prospects. And for what?’ he asks. To add insult to injury, he was told that while he could keep his award, he could no longer wear it.

It took years for Stephen Close, a former Royal Fusiliers soldier from Salford, to rebuild his life after he was not only discharged with disgrace but put on the sex offenders register after having consensual sex with another soldier as a twenty-year-old. Pictured, Stephen today

It took years for Stephen Close, a former Royal Fusiliers soldier from Salford, to rebuild his life after he was not only discharged with disgrace but put on the sex offenders register after having consensual sex with another soldier as a twenty-year-old. Pictured, Stephen today

Stephen, pictured during his service in Germany, repressed his sexuality for years before losing his virginity with a fellow soldier, which led him to be reported to the higher-ups

Stephen, pictured during his service in Germany, repressed his sexuality for years before losing his virginity with a fellow soldier, which led him to be reported to the higher-ups

Many others were treated in ways that would befit a hardened criminal – especially if they were a member of the military police.

That was the fate of 62-year-old former Royal Navy Police officer James Lindsay who received a call while on leave visiting his parents in Stranraer, Scotland, telling him he had to return to HMS Southampton – the ship where he was head of police – within 24 hours to be ‘investigated.’

When he returned, his locker was stripped of all his belongings, his good conduct medal was taken away and he was frogmarched off the ship and placed in a cell in Portsmouth, where he stayed for three months awaiting court martial alongside thirteen other navy officers who had been similarly ’rounded up’.

And all because another ‘report’ had been made – this one from someone who had seen James in the London gay nightclub Heaven.

He was dismissed from the Navy, leaving his promising career as one of the youngest recruits to the Navy Police in ruins. ‘My one piece of luck is they discharged me before my court martial. That meant I didn’t get sent to Colchester prison for another six months – they thought as I was in the police my life would truly be made hell if I was jailed,’ he recalls.

Elaine Chambers, now 60, became the victim of a witch-hunt after someone made a comment she had 'lesbian tendencies'

Elaine Chambers, now 60, became the victim of a witch-hunt after someone made a comment she had ‘lesbian tendencies’ 

Elaine, pictured in her uniform, was an army nursing officer

Elaine joined Alexandra¿s Royal Army Nursing Corps in 1982 aged 21

Elaine Chambers was 21 when she joined Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps in 1982

In other cases the treatment meted out seems little short of inhumane. It took years for Stephen Close, a 58-year-old former Royal Fusiliers soldier from Salford, to rebuild his life after he was not only discharged with disgrace but put on the sex offenders register after having consensual sex with another soldier as a twenty-year-old.

Stephen had joined the army in 1980 aged 17, posted to Berlin at the height of the Cold War amid a climate of feverish high alert and suspicion. ‘It wasn’t a case of if the Russians would invade but when,’ he says. ‘We were often hauled out of bed in the small hours and told to get to our posts. You felt your life was on the line all the time.’

Still a virgin, Stephen had repressed his sexuality until one night in 1983 when he had a liaison with another soldier – his first sexual experience. Within hours he was arrested by officers from the military’s Serious Investigations Branch and accused of committing an ‘indecent act’.

Paraded around the camp and bombarded with homophobic abuse – he recalls peers shouting for him to be castrated – he was stripped, given an invasive medical examination by an army doctor and his possessions were seized before he was rigorously questioned for hours.

‘These guys interrogated terrorists so it wasn’t long before they broke me,’ he recalls. ‘They were pushing chairs over, banging their fists, shouting in my face.’

Stephen was charged with gross indecency and taken into detention in a disused part of the barracks where he was beaten and sexually assaulted by two fellow soldiers. ‘They tipped me out of bed, beat me up and slammed my head against a door. I came round to find a guard standing over me.’

Subsequently taken into protective custody – where the guards spat on his meals – Stephen was court martialled in Berlin, and sentenced to six months in Colchester Military Prison in 1983 for sexual assault as both he and his partner were also under the then legal age of consent for homosexual intercourse of 21 (it was lowered to 18 in 1994 and to 16 in 2001).

Carl was dismissed in spite of his exemplary service which saw him being given a civilian award for bravery, a commendation from the Commander-in-Chief and a mention in the Queen¿s Birthday Honours List

Carl during his service. In 2016, he became Manchester's first openly gay Lord Mayor after starting a career in politics

Carl during his service showing off several awards. In 2016, he became Manchester’s first openly gay Lord Mayor after starting a career in politics 

That meant that his name was also entered onto the sex offenders register, something Stephen who now works in social housing after years struggling to find employment, describes as ‘a noose around my neck that I couldn’t loosen’.

The prospect of a criminal record was a terrifying one for all gay recruits, and one which also hung over former army nursing officer Elaine Chambers, 60, who became the subject of an investigation – witch-hunt might be a better word – following a blasé comment by a colleague that she had ‘lesbian tendencies’.

Within days, Elaine, who had joined Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps in 1982 aged 21, found herself not only under investigation but falsely accused of making an unwanted pass at two colleagues.

‘Just being gay in the military was an offence in itself, but I also had to defend myself against this appalling allegation, made by women I had been involved with who were trying to save their own skin,’ she says. ‘I was terrified.’

Stephen during his service in Germany. It took him years to have his conviction removed from his criminal record and DNA erased from files

Stephen during his service in Germany. It took him years to have his conviction removed from his criminal record and DNA erased from files 

The ensuing investigation lasted nearly five months, and saw her private affairs searched over with a fine-toothed comb. ‘They went through my letters, tracking down other women in the military with whom I had been intimate. Some of them lost their jobs overnight, including one who had been serving for 22 years.’

In the end, Elaine was told she could either face a court martial or resign her commission. Elaine chose the latter, but says her ‘resignation’ in January 1988 left her devastated. ‘Emotionally it was incredibly damaging. I lost everything and faced being labelled a criminal – and I’d done nothing wrong.’

Elaine went on to build a successful civilian nursing career, but many gay veterans had to turn entrepreneur in order to survive: David Kelsey recalls applying for the police, only to be turned down because of his ‘criminal record’. He started his own business instead, running a gay nightclub before moving into local politics.

Carl Austin-Behan had to resort to working nights at a local supermarket as he tried to find his feet, eventually setting up his own promotions company before moving into politics, first as a Labour councillor and then in 2016 as Manchester’s first openly gay Lord Mayor.

Meanwhile, James Lindsay initially worked as a bouncer before forging a successful career in management and taking on his own pub.

‘A lot of others didn’t make it,’ he points out. ‘Some took their own lives.’ And many, like Stephen Close, were haunted by what had happened to them for decades: eight years ago Stephen opened the door of his home in Salford to find two detectives on his doorstep who demanded a sample of his DNA for what they told him was a major swoop on ‘serious’ criminals. 

Using controversial powers under the Crime and Security Act 2010, the police were targeting people convicted of ‘serious’ crimes prior to 1995 as part of an Operation known as ‘Harvest’.

‘I was appalled,’ he says. ‘What had happened would no longer even be considered an offence under current law’.

It has taken Stephen several years to have his conviction – and DNA – removed from the criminal record, and while he has no medal to be returned, he believes that last week’s announcement is an important step in restoring the dignity of gay veterans.

It’s a sentiment echoed by gay rights campaigners, who point out that the return of awards should be a ‘first step’ on a journey that will also see ex-military personnel’s lost pension rights restored and enduring criminal records overturned. 

‘While we are delighted by this week’s news, gay veterans have had their lives blighted by their treatment and waited too long to have these terrible injustices overturned,’ says Craig Jones, of military charity Fighting with Pride. ‘There is so much more that needs to be done – and quickly.’

Defence Minister Baroness Goldie said. ‘It is deeply regrettable that because of their sexuality some members of the Armed Forces were in the past treated in a way that would not be acceptable today. 

‘As a result of disciplinary action and their dismissal from service, some personnel forfeited medals that they had earned, and others were denied the opportunity of continued service that could have resulted in the restoration of medals that were forfeited for different reasons. 

‘I am very pleased now to be in a position to address this wrong and to invite any personnel affected or, in some circumstances, the families of those who are deceased to apply to have their medals returned.’ 

Minister for Defence People and Veterans Johnny Mercer added: ‘LGBT personnel have and continue to make significant contributions to the Armed Forces. Our announcement addresses a historic injustice and demonstrates that the military is a positive place to work for all who choose to serve.’ 

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