Update from Craig Jones (Executive Chair) and Caroline Paige (Chief Executive)

Welcome to our February update, which comes at the end of busy start to the year. Many of you will have seen our team out welcoming new veterans this month and connecting them into our growing community. Our Pride in Veterans Standard team have been out supporting capacity building while also managing the surge of demand for help during LGBT+ History Month. Please do read about their recent and upcoming activities, in the regional sections of the newsletter below.

​Our day-to-day work really does get us out and about, with projects, planning, briefings, interviews, workshops, and online events. In the last few weeks we have spoken to audiences at UK Military STRATCOM, the North West Employer Recognition Scheme Gold Awards Association, NHS leaders and to our 140 partners in the 10 ‘Veterans Places, Pathways and People’ (VPPP) Portfolios. As the VPPP programme begins a new 3-year AFCFT phase we look forward to the opportunity to support LGBT+ veterans, serving personnel and families across the UK. In the first 5-months, with our partners we will map out how we can deliver the best possible support for the military community in a way which compliments the works of programme partners. We’ll bring you more news on the future VPPP programme as it develops.

At the end of January, we had the opportunity to bring the FWP trustees and Community Team together, in Edinburgh, for the first time to look at our progress, celebrate our successes and look at the range of feedback we have had from veterans about development of our services. The Trustees considered our future plans and policies including our strategic and business plans. Our Veterans Community Workers and other team members shared updates on training and experiences of their work across the UK. Some of the most important discussions were about your ideas about where we should concentrate our effort, do more of the same or do things differently. The time was well spent and included a great workshop session on Collective Advocacy.

We were sad to hear that George, our lovely short-term VCW for the South-West is leaving us to follow a career in STRATCOM. We thank him for the amazing contribution he has made in building community and organisational capacity in the South-West of England VPPP region. We wish him well and look forward to catching up at FWP events. We also lose the equally lovely Charlie, who joined us for a similarly short time, as our Social Media Coordinator, and we wish him every success as he prepares for his Admiralty Interview Board.

As part of LGBT History Month, we held our first ever LGBT+ Veterans Pride, hosted by HMS Eaglet in Liverpool. This event developed as a NW VPPP regional event but, thanks to some amazing support and sponsorship from Forces Wellbeing Collective, The Royal British Legion, Sahir House LGBTQ+ charity, and the Liverpool Gin Distillery, we were later able to open the invite to veterans from further afield who wished to attend. The most adventurous travelling in from Malaga, Scotland and the Isle of Man! You can read more about this event in the NW Region section in our Newsletter, but huge thanks to Kenny, John and Ann for organising an amazing evening, all the veterans who attended, and the younger generation of serving personnel for their exceptionally warm welcome, and who also watched over their older and less wiser veterans well into Liverpool’s early hours! It was a very successful event and we hope to provide similar opportunities in the future in other regions of the UK.

Seven months after the Prime Minister accepted the 49 recommendations of Lord Etherton’s LGBT Veterans Independent Review Report there has been no news on progress of financial reparations. Given that FWP first provided a financial reparations plan to the Cabinet Office in October 2020, which was updated in August last year, this is very disappointing. Many veterans face uncertain futures and are in financial distress caused by the ban or because of life limiting health issues. Every day of delay matters. Thank you to Joe Ousalice and Leigh Balmforth for their support earlier this week with the BBC and other media. FWP veterans Ruth and Kevin also supported our media operations. Millions of listeners and viewers heard these stories on The Today Programme, BBC Breakfast, national and regional news bulletins and in the press. The BBC Breakfast coverage can be viewed from our Website news page or the link in our newsletter below. Watch out for more coverage in the near future as we call on the Government to step up the pace and honour the commitments made in Parliament in July and December last year. We cannot share all of our day-to-day work, however, we are in discussions every day cross-party in Westminster and at the Senedd and Holyrood. There is a great deal of activity and you will see that emerge in the coming weeks. Still waters run deep.

FWP is working with a number of partners in a bid for the opportunity to deliver the LGBT+ Veterans Memorial (Reparation Recommendation 17) in a tender which closes quite soon. The memorial will be placed at the National Arboretum in 2025. Our bid will have at its heart the widest community consultation we have ever done, reaching across the UK to the thousands of veterans connected to us on social media, through our mailing list and to those in direct contact with our team regionally and nationally. Through our Reference Group and our 160 Pride in Veterans Members we will reach into LGBT+ communities in other LGBT+ and veterans organisations, and we will create a wide range of regional and national opportunities for feedback and consultation. Everything we do is led by you, if we win this tender, this project will be delivered in a way that will become the strongest demonstration of that commitment we could possibly make, with LGBT+ veterans guiding and engaged in design, creation and delivery.

Through community interactions with our VCWs and during our last Town Hall, there is a sense that some of our newer veterans don’t feel they ‘qualify’ to be part of the LGBT+ military community and some have not registered for reparations. The only ‘qualification’ FWP sees is that you are a LGBT+ veteran or someone otherwise affected by the ‘gay ban’ or an invited ally/advocate. We might occasionally restrict an event such as a Town Hall to ‘LGBT+ Veterans only’, but these occasions are only when we need to create a safe space to allow vulnerable veterans to share experiences or where discussions about our policy work are sensitive. These occasions are advertised as ‘LGBT+ Veterans only’, though we particularly welcome individuals who lost careers or were affected by the ‘gay ban’ because of a perception that they were LGBT+, when in fact they were not.

Everyone who served during the ban period will have been impacted in one way or another, but as far as application and/or registration for Reparations goes, you would need to be an LGBT veteran, or someone who was perceived to be LGBT, who served during the ban period and has been impacted by it (in any way).  This covers the widest range of people. If there is any doubt, please apply! A wide range of non-financial reparations are already available, from a written apology to disregard of criminal offences, but whilst the scheme and qualification requirements for financial reparations is not yet known, you can, and should, still register interest now.

And finally, we are also delighted to confirm a publishing contract has been agreed for a new Fighting With Pride Book, which will be launched later in the year. There will be an announcement soon about online meetings to find out more on the opportunity. If writing is ‘not your thing’, please don’t be put off, we can help! Please come along to one of the online meetings or if you would like a 1:1 call, drop Craig a line. It’s fine to come along, find out and make your decision later: craig.jones@fightingwithpride.org.uk

We look forward to seeing you at our next Town Hall in March, more details of which will be announced soon.

Best wishes,

Craig and Caroline

You can read the full February Newsletter here.

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