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British military celebrates 20 years of gay people serving openly

Ministry of Defence buildings are lit in rainbow colors, as military recognizes end of ban on gay personnel in January 2000

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Ministry of Defence headquarters — Photo: MOD

The United Kingdom is celebrating a landmark moment in LGBTQ history: 20 years since its military lifted a ban on gay and bisexual people serving openly.

The British Army, Royal Air Force, and Royal Navy formally ended a ban on LGB service members on January 12, 2000, and the military is marking the occasion with weekend-long celebrations, Forces Network reports.

The Ministry of Defence hosted a special reception in the British Parliament on January 9, paying tribute to former and current LGBTQ service members (the British military has allowed transgender people to serve openly since 2014).

In addition, the Ministry of Defence Main Building in London is illuminated in rainbow colors, as is the Victory Building at the Royal Navy’s headquarters in Portsmouth (below).

Victory Building, Royal Navy headquarters — Photo: MOD

Navy bases and Royal Marines units will be allowed to fly rainbow Pride flags, and flags will also be raised at Edinburgh Castle which will also be lit in rainbow colors.

In a statement, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace praised the military for having “changed and evolved considerably in recent years to become the diverse, modern employer they are today.”

He added: “This anniversary is a timely reminder of the fantastic contribution the LGBT community makes to the military, and our commitment to creating a truly inclusive place to work.”

Johnny Mercer, Minister for Defence People and Veterans, said: “The only way to perform at your best in the Armed Forces is to put your whole self into what you do, which isn’t possible if you are hiding who you are.”

He added that the military is “moving towards being even more inclusive and accepting than ever before.”

Prior to the repeal of the ban on openly gay service members, being outed in the military would have earned a dishonorable discharge.

The military is also celebrating a number of changes since 2000, including same-sex couples in civil partnerships — implemented in 2004, prior to full marriage equality in 2014 — receiving the same benefits as married couples, and same-sex couples now being able to co-habit in all Service Accommodation.

The United States ended its ban on gay and bisexual service members in 2011, when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was officially repealed.

The Obama administration allowed transgender people to serve openly starting in June 2016, though that came to an end last year following the implementation of a new ban by the Trump administration.

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Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's online editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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