A timeline of notable events about LGBT life and the military in the UK.



  • The Army Act 1955, Air Force Act 1955 and Naval Discipline Act 1957 set out the provisions under which service personnel could be dismissed for homosexuality. The sections across the Acts which could be applied are ‘scandalous conduct by officers’, ‘disgraceful conduct of an indecent kind’ and ‘conduct prejudicial to good conduct’.


  • Peter Wildeblood, Michael Pitt-Rivers and Lord Montagu of Beaulieu were convicted of ‘conspiracy to incite certain male persons to commit serious offences with male persons. The trial and sentencing raises the profile of homosexuality in Britain and prompts discussions on reform of the law’.
  • Alan Turing dies by suicide. Earlier he had been convicted for ‘gross indecency’ and underwent drug treatment to suppress his libido.


  • Buggery and gross indecency are confirmed as civilian offences under the Sexual Offences Act 1956.


  • 29 Oct 1957: Publication of The Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution[1] [2]

Due to an increasing number of men being imprisoned for homosexuality, in 1954 the Home Secretary appointed the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution in Great Britain to consider the issue. The Chair of the Committee was Sir John Wolfenden.

The report, known as the ‘Wolfenden report’,  concluded that the criminalisation of homosexuality was an impingement on civil liberty and while the law should prevent abuse, it should not intrude into matters of personal morality. The Committee recommended that “homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence”

The Cabinet at the time opposed any implementation of the report’s recommendations.


  • Lord Arran proposes the decriminalisation of male homosexual acts.



  • The Sexual Offences Act 1967 decriminalised private, consensual “homosexual acts” between persons aged 21 and over in England and Wales

However, s.1(5) of the Act states that none of its provisions prevent an act from being an offence under the military discipline Acts.

(5) Subsection (1) of this section shall not prevent an act from being an offence (other than a civil offence) under any pro- vision of the Army Act 1955, the Air Force Act 1955 or the Naval Discipline Act 1957.


If a serviceman commits an act of buggery or indecency under the Act, he could be prosecuted for the civil criminal offence either through the criminal courts or court martialled.


  • The ‘Bermuda case’: The owner of a gay brothel on Bermuda had made a record of the names and ships of more than 400 Royal Navy sailors who had visited the brothel, potentially making them the targets for blackmail.[3] The case led to three sailors and two Bermudians being jailed for indecency and to at least 40 sailors being discharged.[4]

The incident was discussed in Parliament.[5]

  • The Navy Department Homosexual Discharge Advisory Panel was temporarily set up to advise on the discharge of those involved in the ‘Bermuda case’.
  • Personnel were dismissed from aircraft carrier HMS Eagle for homosexuality.


  • Defence Council Instructions IC2/1969 ‘Discipline – unnatural offences’ was issued following the enactment of The Sexual Offences Act 1967 providing guidance on how to deal with instances of homosexuality. Download Defence Council Instructions pdf
  • Personnel were dismissed from destroyer HMS Diamond for homosexuality.


  • Secretary of State for Defence v Warn: The House of Lords decided that a court martial prosecution for homosexuality was invalid as permission had not been sought from the Director of Public Prosecutions.
  • Personnel were dismissed from frigate HMS Lincoln for homosexuality


  • In January, eighteen personnel from the Queen’s Household Cavalry were dismissed due to alleged homosexuality. This was due to alleged association with models in a centrefold pictorial in the gay magazine Him. The majority of those dismissed were heterosexual.[6]
  • The Campaign for Homosexual Equality launches a campaign to overturn the ban in the military


  • Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980: the equivalent of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 in England & Wales decriminalising same-sex activity in Scotland subject to the same conditions as the 1967 Act.
  • 27 April: London Weekend Television, as part of its ‘Gay Life’ series broadcasts an episode looking at the treatment of LGB people in the armed forces.


  • John Bruce, a former bombardier, takes the UK government to the ECHR following his dismissal for homosexuality.
  • Ratings from the Royal Yacht Britannia are charged with ‘disgraceful conduct’ and an investigation into homosexuality amongst the crew is started.


  • Homosexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order: Following the 1981 case of Jeff Dudgeon v. the United Kingdom and the European Court of Human Rights decision, decriminalisation of homosexual acts was extended to Northern Ireland.


  • The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) gives its decision in the  B. v the United Kingdom case,[7] the first time a case regarding the ban on homosexuality was considered. It dismissed the complaint on the basis that the ‘court-marital and dismissal from the service can be considered “necessary in a democratic society” for the “protection of morals” and also “for the prevention of disorder” in the context of military service’.


  • The House of Commons Select Committee responsible for scrutinising the quinquennial Armed Forces Bill recommended that ‘homosexual activity of a kind that is legal in civilian law should not constitute an offence under Service law’. In reaching that conclusion, the Committee took evidence from Michael Cashman (now Lord Cashman), and co-founder of Rank Outsiders, Robert Ely. As a consequence of the Select Committee’s recommendation, male homosexual acts were partially ‘decriminalized’ in the armed forces in 1994.
  • The ban on being homosexual in the intelligence services was lifted on 23 July. The lifting of the ban was made by the then Prime Minister John Major in response to a written question.[8]
  • Heart of the Matter, presented by Joan Bakewell, broadcasts an episode on homosexuality in the military ‘Falling out’.[9]
  • Rank Outsiders was formed by Robert Ely, a bandmaster in the Parachute Regiment, who had been dismissed for being gay, and Elaine Chambers,[10] an officer in the Queen Alexander’s Royal Nursing Corps, who had also been dismissed.


  • The World Health Organisation declassified homosexuality as a mental illness.


  • The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994[11] lowers the age of consent for gay men from 21 to 18.
  • Homosexual acts under military law were decriminalized by s.146 of the Act. Although they can still be treated as criminal if they are linked to “other acts and circumstances”
  • The Ministry of Defence publishes ‘Armed forces policy and guidelines on homosexuality’, which re-emphasizes its position that homosexuality is incompatible with military service.
  • In September, the Armed Forces Legal Challenge Group, established by Edmund Hall, has its first meeting hosted by Stonewall. The Group was formed to challenge the ban on homosexuality in the military.


  • As part of the quintennial debate on the forces discipline Acts, the ban on homosexuality is discussed as part of The Armed Forces Bill (the Armed Forces Bill Research Paper 95/125[12] has the background to date). Download tri service pre-enlistment statement pdf
  • In May, ‘We Can’t Even March Straight’ by Edmund Hall is published. The book contains first hand testimony of what being LGB in the armed forces was like under the ban on homosexuality.
  • The High Court rules in favour of the Ministry of Defence in a case brought by four service personnel, including Duncan Lustig-Prean, challenging the ban on homosexuality


The report was a substantive discussion, including a survey of forces personnel, as to why the ban on homosexuality should remain in place. On publication, the Minister[13] stated that “The team’s assessment is that any relaxation of the existing policy is likely to have a detrimental effect on operational effectiveness. For that reason, the Government will continue to support the existing policy of excluding homosexuals from the armed forces.”

  • R v Ministry of Defence, ex parte Smith: The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal by four service personnel that the Equal Treatment Directive did not apply to discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.  The claimants argued there had been Wednesbury unreasonableness.


  • 6 May: Channel 4 showed ‘The Investigator’, a drama based on the experience of a military policewoman, Caroline Meagher, ordered to investigate suspected lesbians in the army, who was herself lesbian.


  • September: BBC2’s Timewatch series broadcasts an episode ‘Sex and war’[14] about homosexuality during World War 2 and the approach currently taken by the military.
  • Following the loss of their appeal, Jeanette Smith, Duncan Lustig Prean, Graham Grady and John Beckett approached Stonewall for assistance in taking the Ministry of Defence  to the  European Court of Human Rights to overturn the ban on homosexuality.


  • Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations 1999: These regulations implement the ECHR decision of P vs S and Cornwall County Council and makes gender reassignment descrimination unlawful in employment.

27 September 1999

  • The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued its principal judgment in Lustig-Prean and Beckett v. the United Kingdom. It held that there had been a breach of Article 8 of the Convention as regards the investigations conducted into the applicants’ sexual orientation by the armed forces and as a result of their subsequent discharge from the armed forces on the grounds of their homosexuality. [15]
  • George Robertson, the Secretary of State for Defence, announces that all investigations and discharges into homosexuality are to be suspended.


  • In subsequent judgments published on Lustig-Prean and Beckett v. the United Kingdom, the European Court of Human Rights made a monetary award in favour of each applicant by way of “just satisfaction” under Article 41 of the Convention. Each award included an amount for non-pecuniary damage and pecuniary damage. The Awards covered matters as the emotional and psychological effects of the investigation and discharge, the difference between the applicants’ civilian income and benefits and their service income and benefits had they not been discharged, lost bonuses, and the effect of the loss of participation in the non-contributory pension scheme. [16]

Over subsequent years, the Ministry of Defence paid out compensation to LGBT veterans.

  • 12 January: The Secretary of State for Defence, Geoff Hoon MP, in a statement[17] to the House of Commons lifts the ban on homosexuality in the military.
  • A new code of social conduct in the armed forces is issued updating its policy on homosexuality.

Post 2000


  • Employment Equality (Sexual orientation) Regulations 2003: Introduces protection from discrimination because of sexual orientation in employment


  • June: BBC Radio 4 airs the two-part documentary  ‘Cleaning out the camp’[18] about LGBT military personnel who served during the ban on homosexuality.


  • The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, issued an apology for the treatment of Alan Turing.


  • The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 allows for historic convictions for consensual sex between men to be removed from criminal records.


  • Alan Turing receives a posthumous pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy by the Queen for his conviction for ‘gross indecency’.


  • Armed Forces Act 2016: Section 14 of the Act amends sections of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 which contained wording stating that the provisions do not prevent a homosexual act from constituting grounds for discharging a member of the Armed Forces. The sections had no practical effect from 2000.


  • The Policing and Crime Act 2017[19] pardoned all historic instances of criminal convictions of gross indecency against men. This has become known as the ‘Alan Turing law’. The Act only applies to convictions in England and Wales.


  • In April, the Director of MI5 issues an apology[20] to the LGBT community for their historical treatment by the service.


  • The Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) issued an apology[21] for the treatment of LGBT candidates and staff by the Service, before the Government-wide vetting ban was lifted in 1991.


LGBT Veterans Independent Review set up to understand the impact of the ban on homosexuality on veterans who served between 1967 and 2000; and to make recommendations to government

1 https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/private-lives/relationships/collections1/sexual-offences-act-1967/wolfenden-report-/

2 https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/cabinetpapers/themes/before-after-wolfenden-report.htm

3 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/2378811.stm

4 https://www.advocate.com/news/2002/11/01/documents-reveal-concerns-gay-sex-british-navy-6816

5 https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/1968-05-01/debates/85a71897-b0fe-4229-a00b-5e110507d76f/ConvictedSailors(Bermuda)

6 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/24/gay-guardsmen-discharged-him-magazine-1976

7 https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#{%22itemid%22:[%22001-74654%22]}

8 https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/written-answers/1991/jul/23/security-vetting

9 https://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/heart-of-the-matter–falling-out/z6dvxyc

10 https://www.fightingwithpride.org.uk/news/lgbt-history-month-elaines-story/

11 https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1994/33/part/XI/crossheading/homosexuality/enacted

12 https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/RP95-125/RP95-125.pdf

13 https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/written-answers/1996/mar/04/homosexuality-policy-assessment

14 https://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/1efbbedc3ce143558b83d912a2482495

15 https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#{%22appno%22:[%2231417/96%22],%22itemid%22:[%22001-58407%22]}

16 https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/fre#{%22itemid%22:[%22001-59022%22]}

17 https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199900/cmhansrd/vo000112/debtext/00112-06.htm#00112-06_spmin0

18 https://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2007/06_june/28/camp.shtml

19 https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2017/3/section/164/enacted

20 https://www.mi5.gov.uk/news/mi5-issues-apology-to-lgbt-community-for-historical-treatment

21 https://www.sis.gov.uk/lgbt-plus-apology.html