Lost and Found: The LGBT+ Veteran Community and the Impacts of the Gay Ban

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Abstract

Background: Prior to 12th January 2000, the UK Armed Forces enforced a ban on all LGBT+ service personnel. Known as the ‘gay ban’, there was no distinction made between sexual orientation and gender identity. Under this ban, LGBT+ service personnel had medals, awards, and commissions taken, pensions and gratuities disregarded or degraded and their association with the Armed Forces barred. A significant number of LGBT+ military personnel during the ban experienced traumatic investigations to uncover evidence of homosexuality and subsequent dishonourable discharges, forced resignations, and alienation from the military family without access to social, financial, or mental health support, which reduced overall well-being. Despite over two decades since the gay ban was repealed, little is known of the UK LGBT+ veterans’ community or the long-term impact of serving during the Armed Forces gay ban.

Method: A mixed methods approach was carried out over two phases. Phase One consisted of a qualitative exploratory study involving semi-structured interviews with 15 LGBT+ veterans to understand their lived experience of the LGBT+ Armed Forces ban. Findings from the Phase One interviews informed the development of an online survey completed by 101 LGBT+ veterans, the quantitative element to gain a greater understanding of the impact of the ban, social isolation, and loneliness. All participants enlisted before 12th January 2000, self-identified as being LGBT+ and as having been affected by the ban.

Findings: Following the analysis of Phase One and Phase Two, the findings were triangulated. Three overarching themes were identified - Emotional Impact; Changing to Adapt and Adapting to Change; and Aftermath: Barriers to Help Seeking. Underpinning the themes is the risk to health and well-being and the resultant social isolation and loneliness as a consequence of decades of employing camouflage techniques to blend into military life and expected cultural norms.

Conclusions: This work advances knowledge on the lived experience of LGBT+ veterans by providing an evidence base for the development of effective service provision to enhance and improve the health and well-being of LGBT+ veterans. In addition to recognising the harm and cumulative vulnerability, brought about by discriminatory practice and abuse, there is a need to recognise that the risk of life-limiting social isolation and loneliness. Recommendations from the research and LGBT+ veterans themselves are also presented.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherNorthumbria University
Commissioning bodyFighting with Pride
Number of pages66
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2023

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