Reluctant hero – Duncan Lustig-Prean on 20 years of gays in the military.
January 12th marked the 20th anniversary of the lifting of the ban on homosexuality in our Armed Forces. An integral figure in this struggle was Duncan Lustig-Prean who spoke to GScene about his experience. Dismissed as Naval Commander in 1995 for being gay under what the armed forces at the time called “unnatural conduct” Duncan went on to help Rank Outsiders campaigning for LGBT+ rights. Alongside John Beckett, Jeanette Smith and Graeme Grady, colleagues similarly dismissed due to their sexuality, Duncan brought a case against the U.K. Government in the European Court of Human Rights. In 1999 the Court found in their favour and as a result the Government suspended dismissals from the Military.
Speaking to Jack Lynn on behalf of GScene, Lustig-Prean described his time in the Navy before the lifting of the ban as sometimes “acutely uncomfortable” in an environment within which it was impossible to be your true self. He talked of regularly having to “cover your tracks” and of lying to every colleague when asked questions about his social life and weekends at home.
Hundreds of LGBT military personnel were removed from careers they both loved and excelled at before the ban was lifted. Discharge documents from the 1980s kept by dismissed officers include suggested retirement:
The investigation reveals that __________ has had abnormal sexual relationships and it is in the best interests of the Corps that this officer be allowed to retire voluntarily. In the most extreme cases, some were sent to military prison.
Lustig-Prean: “I loved the Royal Navy and I still miss it. The person who inspired me and gave me the energy [to take a stand] was a young man in Plymouth. He had been interrogated that afternoon and was so distressed he was on the Tamar Bridge and was threatening to jump. We talked in the rain for three hours and he was saved. After that I thought that if I was worth an officer’s gold braid, I had to stand up for people like him”.
Lustig-Prean met John Beckett, Jeanette Smith and Graeme Grady through a group called Rank Outsiders following a process through which Solicitors selected test cases. The group of former service men and women would then spend five years together in the courts under intense scrutiny and became what Duncan describes as “a close-knit family”. Their campaign and legal action was eventually successful.
“Things didn’t change overnight after the ban went but the military really gripped diversity and inclusion. Now many LGBT+ people in the forces are role models for our communities; they feel confident to be who they are. It was wonderful to see so many LGBT+ people and their partners in the celebrations for the Anniversary.
Duncan, his colleagues and many who were dismissed in similar circumstances attended the Houses of Parliament to hear two ministers and service chiefs apologise for the past.
Lustig-Prean described the event as “intensely emotional”. “This wasn’t some mealy-mouthed begrudging apology. It was heartfelt and sincere. The minister has since apologised for the actions of Chaplains who outed LGBT+ Service personnel in the most humbling way”.
So… what next? Lustig-Prean says it is his intention to establish a charity giving medical, spiritual and practical help to LGBT+ veterans, especially those who suffered under the ban. He also plans to ensure there is a repeal of anti-LGBT+ legislation for the Merchant Navy:
“There is much work to be done in the Commonwealth countries who suffer under hostile old legislation. The journey continues”.
Duncan Lustig-Prean lives in Brighton and is a board member of Fighting With Pride, you can read the Gscene review here:
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