Dame Kelly Holmes was among those present for the apology
BY ELLA PORTEOUS, IMAGE BY DREAMSTIME AND DAME KELLY HOLMES
On 19 July, the Prime Minister made a formal apology in Parliament to all the veterans who were affected by the military ban on LGBTQIA people serving, calling it an “appalling failure of the British state”. This apology follows the publication of the LGBT Veterans Independent Review.
Despite the UK’s decimalisation of homosexuality in 1967, it was illegal for LGBT people to serve in the military until 2000, which heavily impacted the lives and careers of so many veterans.
The LGBT Veterans Independent Review began in January 2022 and collected the experiences of 1,145 veterans who served between 1967 to 2000. The review found that many LGBT veterans had faced horrific treatment during their time in the military. Many were arrested, dismissed, sexually abused, interrogated, raided, stripped of their medals, and in some cases, arrested.
In the apology statement, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “I am pleased we now have the opportunity to right those historic wrongs so that LGBT Veterans can once again take pride in their service.”
Dame Kelly Holmes MBE was one of the veterans invited to the House of Commons to represent the 1000+ veterans who submitted testimonies, as well as the 20,000 others who were affected by the ban. Kelly joined the British Army in 1988 when she was 18, leaving in 1997 to train as an athlete full-time. She was awarded an MBE for her service in 1998.
Calling the government’s apology “a historic and emotional day for all”, Kelly recalls a moment when she was 23 and her room was raided by the Royal Military Police “as part of a witch hunt”.
She said: “That experience left me traumatised to the extent that I was afraid to ever live my authentic self of admit to being a gay woman. Being in the public eye straight after my career [it] took me 34 years after joining to publicly say I was a gay woman.”
After coming out last year, Kelly told The Mirror that she knew she was gay during her time in the army. Yet, due to the ban, she was unable to come out. This is something that prevented her from being open about her sexuality for so many years.
Others faced similar experiences of discrimination. Emma Riley served in the Royal Navy as a radio operator for 3 years. Joining just before she turned 18, she was unaware she was gay and didn’t know that the military homosexuality ban existed.
After confided in a friend about her sexuality, Emma was arrested, her room was raided by the Royal Military Police, and she was interrogated and forced to out herself to her parents. Emma’s career was destroyed because of the ban and the experience left her traumatised.
Emma was one of the few veterans who went to the European Court Of Human Rights, whose ruling resulted in the ban being lifted in 2000. She was featured in Kelly’s documentary, Kelly Holmes: Being Me, to discuss her experience.
She now spends her time using her voice to champion diversity and inclusion in both her job and voluntary work in schools, focusing on ending LGBT bullying in the hope that no one will have to endure the same discrimination she suffered.
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