Rainbow flag lights up Portsmouth Naval Base as government apologises for historic ban on gay people serving in the military

THE British government has apologised for a ban on homosexuals serving in the military for the first time since it was lifted 20 years ago.

Friday, 10th January 2020, 11:23 am
Updated Friday, 10th January 2020, 3:02 pm

Defence minister Johnny Mercer apologised to a group of veterans during an event to mark the anniversary in London, admitting the ban was wrong.

It comes as Portsmouth Naval Base marked the change in regulations, illuminating parts of the base with the rainbow flag – a symbol of the LGBT+ community.

Speaking at the anniversary commemoration in the Houses of Parliament, Mr Mercer said: ‘It was unacceptable then and it is unacceptable now, and as the minister for defence, people and veterans, I wanted to personally apologise to you today for those experiences.’

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Until the ban was lifted on January 12, 2000, anyone found to be homosexual was dishonourably discharged and in some cases had their medals removed.

Former army veteran Mr Mercer said he wanted to apologise because it was the right thing to do.

‘If I am honest, it is hard to conceive – as a more contemporary veteran of our armed forces, the environment too many of you experienced when you were serving,’ he said.

‘Where being a member of the LGBT+ community would have got you detained, followed by a dishonourable discharge from the military.

Portsmouth Naval Base has marked 20 years since LGBT+ personnel have been allowed to serve openly in the armed forces - 20 flags for 20 years are flying throughout the base.

‘Volunteering to serve is an act of bravery in itself; to volunteer for the chaotic, challenging nature of service life and yet within that community, which so many of us are so proud of, experience discrimination of this sort is unacceptable.’

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In Portsmouth, the rainbow flag was flown from HMS Nelson’s mast and Semaphore Tower.

Victory Building was also illuminated in rainbow colours with temporary floodlights, with posters and banners hanging from lamp posts on the base to mark the 20 years since the ban was lifted.

Victory Building at Portsmouth Naval Base was illuminated with the colours of the rainbow flag. Photo: LPhot Rory Arnold

Lieutenant Commander Jenny Dunford is part of the serving LGBT+ community and said: ‘I think that for a good while now, the generations of people joining the Royal Navy simply don’t rate sexuality as a quality of any more importance than eye colour.

‘I would highly recommend the armed forces to people of any sexuality and assure them that they can be safe in the knowledge that hard work and the ability to bring your whole self to work is the key to reward – and even more importantly to our overall operational capability.’

Commodore Jeremy Bailey, naval base commander, added: ‘We have made much progress in valuing diversity in the last two decades, I hope that you will join me in recognising the significance of this 20th anniversary.’

Last month saw veteran Joe Ousalice from Southampton, who was dishonourably discharged for being bisexual, have his medals returned to him in a landmark ruling at the High Court.

More cases are expected to follow.