Righting the wrongs of exclusion: returning medals to Falklands veteran discharged for being gay

The human impact when your achievements, symbols and your very Belonging are forcibly removed:

Falklands veteran ‘forced out over sexuality’ will get his Good Conduct and Long Service medals back, 27 years after they were stripped when he was discharged from the Navy for being gay.

The challenge of being yourself AND belonging can be difficult to navigate – for individuals and for employers. At Belonging Space, we are looking a ways organisations can improve the lived experience for individuals, how to: Be you, here, with us.

Of course it’s multidimensional: not just belonging to your main employer but also, at the same time, to other groups and aspects of your personal and shared identity.

The military has some of the most intense experience of #Belonging and #Camaraderie. The pain of removal after 18 years, saying someone could not be who they are AND belong to the Navy, is unimaginable.

Navy veteran Joe Ousalice campaigned, supported by Liberty, for many years and went through court proceedings to get his medals back. He commented on his experience in an interview with BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’: 

“What I wanted most was a proper apology, not just to me but to hundreds and hundreds of other people in the armed forces who have experienced the same problems.”

He acknowledges the military’s attitude to LGBT+ forces has changed significantly since then, with a big cultural change.

“I did 18 years in the Navy. I was down in the Falklands, did 6 tours of duty in N Ireland, and was over in Hong Kong and the Middle East, seconded to NATO…

All the time you had to keep your sexuality to yourself. Then had to disclose it, and when you did you were stripped of your medals.”

In joining the Rank Outsiders organisation he became “first point of contact for other people who had been kicked out”. Another form of belonging, in which Joe used his experience in communications as a Navy radio operator to help others.

BBC News reports:

“The Navy wasn’t just my job, it was my life,” Joe said. “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.

Emma Norton, of Liberty, representing Mr Ousalice, said: “The MoD discriminated horribly against LGBT members of the armed forces for decades.

The MoD said Mr Ousalice was “treated in a way that would not be acceptable today and for that we apologise”. “We accept our policy in respect of serving homosexuals in the military was wrong, discriminatory and unjust to the individuals involved.”

The ban on LGBT people serving in the armed forces was lifted in 2000. At least in 2019 we see the military move on a step further to meaningful inclusion of LGBT+ people.

Mr Ousalice will be presented with his Long Service and Good Conduct medal at a ceremony later.  It is understood a scheme will be set up to return medals to other veterans in the future.

The act of returning them, and giving Mr Ousalice an apology, in as formal a context as they were removed, is an important step – for all who belong to the military this acknowledgement says ‘who we are and what we stand for’.

Exclusion causes extreme pain and severe personal suffering: in fact it stimulates the same centres in the brain as physical pain. It also removes valued talent from the organisation, and stifles employee voice when candour is paramount. While access and fair practice has moved on in the last 27 years, there’s still a long way to go for LGBT+ inclusion in many sectors.

This experience shines another light on the power of creating a dynamic and rooted sense of belonging alongside purpose.

Drop us a line if you’d like to talk about how you can improve belonging and inclusion in your organisation.

isabel@belongingspace.com       0207 833 6420    www.belongingspace.com