Charles Byrne, the Director General of the Royal British Legion (RBL) – the armed forces charity that is responsible for the annual poppy appeal – has written to human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell to apologise for the organisation’s record of homophobia.
Since the 1970s, the RBL has ordered the removal from the Cenotaph of any wreaths commemorating LGBT casualties, deeming them “disgusting” and “an insult to the war dead”. Mr Tatchell, who has been campaigning for gay people killed in the line of duty to be honoured alongside their heterosexual counterparts, welcomed Mr Byrne’s apology and its commitment to LGBT+ inclusion.
In his letter to Mr Tatchell, Mr Byrne said: “I am deeply saddened by your previous experience with the charity, and I can only apologise on RBL’s behalf for not responding and the discrimination shown at the time. RBL has very much changed as an organisation since your original correspondence with us.
“The behaviour you outline of the RBL of the past is not tolerated in today’s organisation. The corrective action of more recent years has led to an organisation where differences are celebrated…RBL has formed a positive relationship with Fighting with Pride, including the provision of a helpline to LGBT+ veterans, serving personal and their families…and support to LGBT+ veterans who were unfairly discharged and stripped of their medals prior to the ban being lifted in January 2000.”
Responding to Mr Byrne, Mr Tatchell commented: “Our praise and thanks to the Legion for turning away from its homophobic past with this forthright and fulsome apology. We are delighted by its commitment to support LGBT+ veterans and work with the LGBT+ community.
“This draws a line under the pain of the RBL’s previous prejudice and discrimination. LGBT+ people can now confidently collaborate with the RBL, knowing that they are on our side.”