Banner triangles

LGBT History - Twenty years on for military personnel

On12 January 2020, it was 20 years to the day since the UK government lifted a ban on LGBT people serving in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. We look at how much has changed in those 20 years.

Prior to the ban being lifted, many LGBT military personnel had suffered years of persecution, often ending with a dishonourable discharge from the forces simply because of their sexuality and how they identified themselves. Some were even stripped of their well-earned medals having fought for their country.

Moving into a new decade often brings new opportunities. However, moving into a new millennium 20 years ago brought a whole new light to many. On 12 January 2000, a fundamental change was introduced to the many LGBT people serving in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. It was on this day that the United Kingdom’s policy on not allowing homosexual men, lesbians and transgender personnel to serve openly in the forces was overturned. At the same time, it became unlawful for someone to pressure LGBT people to come out, and serving military also became subject to the same anti-discrimination and harassment rules that were applicable in the workplace for employees and workers at that time. A new general code of sexual conduct was introduced.

Similarly, within the UK workforce, equal protection for LGBT people was a very different story to where it is today. It was not until the Human Rights Act 1998 came into force in 2000 that employment protection for gay and lesbian people really started to develop. Prior to that, the European Court of Justice in Grant v South West Trains Ltd¸ and the Court of Appeal in Smith v Gardner Merchant, had held that the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 did not cover discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, meaning that sexual orientation was a justifiable ground for discrimination in the workplace. Thankfully, with developments in social attitudes, case law, and hard-fought movements from LGBT rights pressure groups, we saw the abolition of these outright institutionalised discriminatory practices.

Today, LGBT citizens are allowed to serve openly within Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, and indeed the British military actively recruits from within the LGBT community. Since 2005, the Royal Navy has been recognised within Stonewall’s Diversity Champion programme, which was set up to promote good working conditions for all existing and potential employees and to ensure equal treatment for all LGBT staff and personnel. More recently, it has been noted that respect for LGBT officers and soldiers is a command responsibility and is vital for operational effectiveness; everyone should recognise everyone’s unique contribution, their talents and experience. Core values of commitment, courage, discipline, respect for others, integrity and loyalty are basic standards.

There is no reason, therefore, that the above principles and standards cannot be adopted for all workplaces. Employers should promote equal treatment regardless of sexual orientation (and any other protected characteristic for that matter) and celebrate diversity and inclusion within the workplace. Employers should, as a minimum:

  • have in place equal opportunities and LGBTQ+ supportive policies to ensure inclusion and the avoidance of discrimination, and that these policies apply to all stages of the employment lifecycle, including recruitment, pay and benefits, terms and conditions, promotion and the termination of employment;
  • foster LGBTQ+ supportive workplace environments to ensure a more engaged workforce. Respect, acceptance and trust are fundamentally important here and within the employment relationship generally;
  • implement diversity, culture and unconscious bias training, which will enable a more systematic and structured approaches to the sharing of knowledge and awareness of the importance of diversity and inclusion;
  • consider establishing an LGBTQ+ staff network;
  • provide access to knowledge banks, support mechanisms or confidential helplines;
  • have in place effective grievance policies and procedures to deal with complaints of discrimination, harassment and/or victimisation where such matters arise. Employees should be able to feel confident that their complaint will be dealt with seriously and that the process will be undertaken in confidence where requested;
  • have an open and tolerant mind to the wide and diverse workforce available in society generally; failure to do so could result in missed opportunities to attract talent or the inability to retain good staff and also lead to a reduction in business opportunities;
  • make a conscious effort to reassure staff of confidentiality of procedures and ensure that personal information is maintained in confidence. Whilst some people are comfortable speaking about their LGBTQ+ status others are not;
  • considering the use of an equal opportunities monitoring questionnaire in recruitment as an annual review process. Some people see the inclusion of such monitoring as an indication of an employer’s positive attitude towards equal opportunities.

Such LGBTQ+ supportive steps, whether identified within Her Majesty’s Armed Forces or otherwise, will assist in fostering a more engaged and productive workforce with greater job satisfaction.


This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2022.


Read the latest articles and commentary from Shoosmiths or you can explore our full insights library.