It's Remembrance Day today. I honour those who served, but especially today, I honour the LGBTQIA+ victims, veterans and those affected by war.
It is only 22 years since the ban on gay, lesbian and bisexual people serving in the British armed forces was lifted. 12th January 2000. I was 22. For half of my life, my community was banned from serving their country. It seems incredible.
Before the ban was lifted, any LGBTQIA+ people had to hide their identity if they wanted to serve their country. If they were discovered, an investigation was likely to take place and then they would be dishonourably discharged. Not only would people lose their job, but any benefits including pensions and potentially face a prison sentence. Some were stripped of their medals. The last person to be imprisoned in this way was in 1993 and he was in prison for four months. Although private 'homosexual acts' between adults aged 21 and over were partly decriminalised in 1967, this didn't cover the military.
One of the most notable LGBTQIA+ people was Alan Turing, a codebreaker who broke the enigma code. In 1952, he was chemically castrated for having sex with a man. Two years later, aged 41, Turing was dead, officially certified as a suicide. It wasn't until 2013 that he was granted a posthumous pardon for his conviction. In 2016, the UK government announced Turing's Law, which would grant pardons to those convicted of laws which have now been repealed. However, this only went as far as nine specific offences that targeted gay and bisexual men. In January of this year, anyone convicted of consensual same-sex activity will be allowed to be pardoned. In his name, the Turing Trust works to use technology to empower disadvantaged communities.
Two of the most well-known war poets were Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. I remember studying their poetry at school, but at the time, I didn't realise how important their words were or the significance to my life.
You have fixed my Life – however short. You did not light me: I was always a mad comet; but you have fixed me. I spun round you a satellite for a month, but I shall swing out soon, a dark star in the orbit where you will blaze. Wilfred Owen to Siegfried Sassoon, 1917
So, to the men, women and non-binary people who served, have served and are serving, thank you.
I'm pleased to see that a new charity has been set up to help LGBT+ veterans; Fighting with Pride. I give them my full support. I'm also really pleased to see that there is an LGBTQA branch of the Royal British Legion.