Understanding the experiences of LGBTQ+ Veterans

Lee Buss-Blair, 01 August 2022

Until 2000, there was a blanket ban on homosexuality in the UK Armed Forces. Those serving who were, or were perceived to be, lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans could face intrusive investigations and ultimately be dismissed or otherwise forced to leave the service.

The government has accepted that this historic policy was wrong. It has committed to work to understand, acknowledge, and where appropriate address the impact it has had on veterans today, in particular in relation to members of the LGBTQ+ community.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Secretary of State for Defence have jointly asked The Lord Etherton PC Kt QC to provide the government with an independent account of the service and experiences of LGBTQ+ veterans who served between 1967, the year ‘homosexuality’ ceased to be a civilian criminal offence, and 2000. This review will enable the government to better recognise the impact of the historic policies, as well as acknowledge the lived experience of service for those veterans, to better understand their support needs today.

The question was posed to me on how best to engage with as wide a range of LGBTQ+ veterans as possible, but specifically LGBTQ+ veterans experiencing homelessness, or those living in retirement living and sheltered accommodation. This caused me to reflect on my own journey.

I joined the Army in 1986, so 14 years before homosexuality was decriminalised. I loved my time in the service, but it came with the very real fear of not only losing a job I loved because of my sexuality but going to prison for it as well.

I left the army initially in 1992, just after fighting in the First Gulf War, without disclosing my sexuality for fear of prosecution. However, I was called up as a reservist in 1996 to undertake a tour of Bosnia during the conflict there. To cut a long story short, my Commanding Officer threatened to charge me on something trivial, so in a fit of pique I suggested he charge me for something worthwhile and told him I was gay.

My sexuality and my identity as a veteran are equally important parts of who I am. They are complimentary, not contradictory, despite what you may at first think. But it does make finding a sense of belonging that little bit more difficult, and it took me decades to come to peace with this perceived duality. For a very long time, having been ‘too gay’ to be a solider, I found I was also too much of a solider to feel at home within the LGBTQ+ community

The Independent Review are already engaging with a wide range of military and LGBTQ+ charities. As a result of their experiences it is possible that LGBTQ+ veterans may have a mistrust of the military. We must also consider those veterans whose experience mirror my own. By falling between both groups, at times they may not identify with either the veteran or LGBTQ+ communities. With these two factors in mind, we need to consider additional ways to encourage and support LGBTQ+ veterans to engage in the Independent Review.

A common effect of trauma, and an understandable response to being criminalised for your sexuality, is difficulty in forming trusting relationships. It strikes me that raising awareness among groups that may already have trusting relationships with LGBTQ+ veterans would be a good way to not only make the cohort of people aware of the review, but hopefully also support them to contribute.

As housing and support providers, we have those trusting relationships. Potentially these relationships are formed already with those LGBTQ+ veterans who aren’t engaged in either the LGBT+ community or the veteran charity network. This gives us a unique opportunity to raise awareness of the review, and support anyone we may work with who may wish to contribute to do so.

The review’s call for evidence can be found on the government’s website.

The review team is looking for hear from LGBTQ+ veterans who served during the ban, other veterans who were involved in the ban and friends, family and representatives of LGBTQ+ veterans who cannot tell their story.

The review is also on social media at Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. If you have any questions about contributing or supporting the review then please do get in touch.