The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said that it will return a medal stripped from a Royal Navy veteran after it discharged the man because of his sexuality.
Joe Ousalice is bisexual. The 68-year-old served with the British Royal Navy for 17 years, primarily as a radio operator. He served during the Falklands war against Argentina in 1981. He also saw service in Northern Ireland and the Middle East.
However, in 1993 he faced a court-martial over allegations that he’d been in bed with another sailor. At the time, same-sex sexual activity in the British armed forces was not allowed. The ban was dropped in 2000.
Although he was found not guilty of the charges, during his court-martial, he revealed his sexuality and was subsequently discharged for conduct, “prejudicial to good order and naval discipline.”
He had previously received a medal for long service and good conduct. He also had good conduct badges. However, after the court-martial, he says the medal was taken from him.
“After the court-martial was completed, a guy came in with a pair of scissors and said ‘Sorry, mate, I need your medal’, and just cut the medal off me,” he previously told the BBC.
“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 also want other LGBT veterans to know they’re not alone, and that we all deserve the same recognition.”
On the Victoria Derbyshire Show this morning, Emma Norton, head of legal casework for the human rights group Liberty and Mr Ousalice’s lawyer, said the MoD had vigorously defended its stance but had a sudden change of heart last week.
“I think it’s relevant that January is the 20th anniversary of the lifting of the ban on LGBT people serving in the armed forces [in the UK],” she suggested.
“I speculate [there is] something unattractive about the MoD celebrating that while at the same time vigorously defending a perfecting reasonably claim brought by someone like Joe.”
In a statement, the Ministry of Defence said Ousalice was, “treated in a way that would not be acceptable today.
“We accept our policy in respect of serving homosexuals in the military was wrong, discriminatory and unjust to the individuals involved.”
It has apologized to Ousalice and is now looking at introducing a policy by which other gay and bisexual people discharged from the armed forces can reapply for any confiscated medals.