LGBT+ equality / Soldiers' rights

MoD apologises and returns medals to Falklands veteran forced out of the navy because of his sexuality

Posted on 10 Dec 2019

  • Liberty represented Joe Ousalice to gain back medals stripped because of his sexuality
  • Ministry of Defence to introduce policy to restore medals to all LGBT veterans affected
  • Ministry of Defence issues a formal apology for the hurt caused

A Falklands veteran has got his medals back and received an apology from the Ministry of Defence in a historic court settlement in a case brought by Liberty, the human rights organisation.

Joe Ousalice, 68, served in the Navy for nearly 18 years but was discharged in 1993 when there was a ban on LGBT people serving in the armed forces.

The former radio operator, who now lives in Southampton, served in the Falklands War, did six tours of duty in Northern Ireland, was posted to the Middle East and was seconded for two and a half years to a leading Nato task force.

He was awarded a Long Service & Good Conduct Medal and three Good Conduct badges – all stripped from him when he was dismissed because of his sexuality, on the grounds that his conduct was reportedly ‘prejudicial to good order and naval discipline’.

On receiving the apology and on being told that he would have his medals restored and a new scheme set up for others like him, Joe said: “I should have always been judged on the basis of my exceptional service and not my sexuality. History has shown us that a person’s sexuality has no bearing on how they perform in times of conflict. So many LGBT people were forced out of their wonderful careers and the consequences were devastating.

“It has taken me 27 years to resolve this and I had to take the MoD to court to get here. But I would like to acknowledge the apology finally offered to me today and urge the MoD to continue to do all it can to address the continuing and serious effects of its discrimination on LGBT veterans.”

While serving, Joe had to keep a large part of his life secret. In his first days of training it was made clear that he could not be open about who he was. It was during a court martial, in which he was found guilty of being in bed with another man (a charge he maintains was fabricated), that he says he was forced to disclose his sexuality.

Joe Ousalice said: “The Navy wasn’t just my job, it was my life. But to do it I had to hide another important part of me, which I did because I loved the navy life so much I didn’t want to give it up. But I shouldn’t have been asked to choose.

“I was made to feel like I was disgusting and in the end I was hounded out on some trumped up charges, and told that because I was attracted to men, my 18 years of service counted for nothing. It was heart-breaking. It took me years to recover.

“I want other LGBT veterans to know they’re not alone, and that we all deserve the same recognition.”

Emma Norton, Joe’s solicitor and Head of Legal Casework at Liberty, said: “The MoD discriminated horribly against LGBT members of the armed forces for decades. They subjected people to degrading and intrusive investigations into their private lives, destroying careers and damaging lives. As we approach the 20th anniversary of the lifting of the ban on LGBT people serving in the armed forces, it is important to recognise the impact of this policy on our LGBT veterans.

“Today is a victory for equality and human rights and an important recognition of the hurt caused. The MoD has agreed to return Joe’s medals, will establish a new scheme so that other people in Joe’s situation can get their medals back and has said sorry to him and others. It’s a great shame that Joe has had to take them to court to get them to see sense but, because he did, he has paved the way for others to get some sort of justice too.”

The MoD issued the following apology to Joe: “Back in 1993, because of his sexuality, Mr Ousalice was treated in a way that would not be acceptable today and for that we apologise. In Mr Ousalice’s case, he was a former radio operator who served his country in the Falklands War and the Middle East, as well as six tours of Northern Ireland and was awarded a Long Service and Good Conduct medal in 1991 which we will now return to him in person. We accept our policy in respect of serving homosexuals in the military was wrong, discriminatory and unjust to the individuals involved.”

Liberty has a dedicated legal advice phone line for serving and former members of the UK Armed Forces designed to provide some initial advice or sign-posting for those who need it. The line is open from 10am-4pm Monday to Friday on 020 3102 9313.

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