Hannah Blythyn MS, Deputy Minister for Social Partnership
The UK Government yesterday published its LGBT Veterans Independent Review and the Prime Minister made a public apology for the historical treatment of those forced out of the military for being gay. I welcome its publication and the recommendations it makes for action across the UK, including Wales.
The UK Government commissioned Lord Etherton KC to lead an independent review into the impact of the criminalisation of being gay in the British military between 1967 and 2000. In practice, being suspected, or outed as being LGBTQ+ in the military meant facing the prospect of a criminal investigation, imprisonment and dismissal and loss of medals. Lives had to be led in secret. Bullying, coercion and sexual abuse of service people on the basis of their actual or perceived sexuality was a by-product of this environment.
Last week, I visited the support hub Served and Proud, in Pontypridd, and joined one of its regular meetings. I had the privilege of discussing with LGBTQ+ veterans their hopes for the review. It was clear how decades after service, the impact of the treatment they received during their time in the military is still felt today.
I very much recognise the bravery of all those who provided evidence to the review team and we take the well-being of all those who have served very seriously. This publication and the surrounding media activity may be a source of distress and I would encourage people to reach out for support.
Our new service, the NHS 111 press 2 for urgent mental health support is now available across the whole of Wales. This provides 24/7 support, 7 days a week, in response to urgent mental health needs, and it is available to all ages.
Other support for less urgent mental health concerns is available through, for instance, our CALL listening and advice line on Freephone 0800 132 737 and online at https://callhelpline.org.uk and through SilverCloud, which provides online access to a range of therapy: SilverCloud - Free NHS Online Mental Health Therapy
The Galop Conversion Therapy helpline on 0800 130 3335 is a safe confidential listening and information service for any LGBT+ person aged 13+ for those who now, or in the past, have experienced abuse aimed at changing, altering, or ‘curing’ their LGBT+ identity.
The Veterans’ Gateway service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 0808 802 1212 or text their details to 81212 and an advisor will be in touch as soon as possible. Veterans can also talk to an advisor by e-mail or Live Chat via Veterans Gateway web site: http://www.veteransgateway.co.uk
The review places importance on raising awareness of LGBTQ+ veterans among organisations providing health and welfare support and on kite-marking and accreditation as a visible sign of that commitment. I strongly support this and am pleased to see the progress already achieved in Wales with organisations adopting the Pride in Veterans Standard offered by the LGBT+ veterans charity Fighting with Pride.
Our commitment to LGBTQ+ action across Wales means there is a receptive audience across the public and third sectors and this has been demonstrated in the number of organisations across Wales committing to the standard. Thanks to the work by Ruth Birch, Fighting with Pride’s presence in Wales has been instrumental in raising awareness of the review and encouraging people to come forward to provide evidence. I congratulate Ruth on winning the Inspiration of the Year award at the Wales Veterans Awards ceremony on 5 July.
This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed in line with announcements by the UK Government. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Senedd returns I would be happy to do so.