LONDON – U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak apologized Wednesday for the treatment of gay veterans, saying that a previous ban on LGBTQ+ people serving in the U.K. military was “an appalling failure of the British state.”
The apology came after an independent review published Wednesday estimated that hundreds, if not thousands, of veterans were dismissed or suffered under an official ban on homosexuality in the U.K. armed forces that was enforced until 2000.
“As today’s report makes clear, in that period many endured the most horrific sexual abuse and violence, homophobic bullying and harassment, all while bravely serving this country," Sunak told Parliament. “Today, on behalf of the British state, I apologize."
The report, which was carried out by retired senior judge Terence Etherton, compiled evidence from more than 1,100 veterans. It documented the effects of what it called “an incomprehensible policy of homophobic bigotry in our armed forces.” Some of the victims have taken their own lives, while others have attempted suicide, the report said.
Veterans' testimonies “give shocking evidence of a culture of homophobia, and of bullying, blackmail and sexual assaults, abusive investigations into sexual orientation and sexual preference, disgraceful medical examinations, including conversion therapy,” the report said.
Some victims said they were stripped of or denied medals they were entitled to, or that they lost their pension rights following their dismissal or discharge.
“The survivors have waited for at least 23 years for acknowledgment of what they have suffered, and for justice and restitution,” it added.
The report also recommended that financial compensation should be made to victims, even if litigation time limits have expired.
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said that the government agreed that there should be a financial award for those affected. But he added that authorities needed time to work through the recommendation, and didn't provide details.
Olympic gold medallist Kelly Holmes, who had served in the British army and who came out as gay last year, said it meant “a huge amount” to hear the government apology.
“From a personal point of view, the ban affected me in terms of who I was and what I couldn’t be for 34 years," Holmes said.
The ban on homosexuality was abandoned in 2000, when the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of four service personnel who were investigated and then discharged because of their sexuality.