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MI5 boss apologises for historic homophobic persecution of intelligence staff: ‘It must have caused all sorts of hurt’

Nick Duffy April 20, 2020
Director General of MI5 Andrew Parker

Director General of MI5 Andrew Parker (Photo by Stefan Rousseau - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The head of British intelligence service MI5 has said he is sorry for the way gay people were treated by the service.

Gay people were barred from working in the British intelligence services until 1991 under rules that deemed them a security risk – and people discovered to be in same-sex relationships were routinely hounded out of their jobs.

Historic discrimination within MI5 ‘a matter of regret and shame’.

MI5’s director general Sir Andrew Parker, who joined the service in 1983, reflected on the policy in an interview with the BBC as he departs from his role.

He said: “It must have caused all sorts of hurt to people. And that has to be a matter of regret and shame for all us.”

The ban on LGBT+ people in the civil service and diplomatic service was lifted by Tory prime minister John Major in 1991.

Queen Elizabeth II with MI5 Director General Andrew Parker
Queen Elizabeth II with MI5 Director General Andrew Parker (Photo by Victoria Jones – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Writing for PinkNews in 2017, Sir John reflected: “Consider Alan Turing, without whom the enigma code might never have been broken; many more lives might have been lost; and the Second World War might not have been won. And yet – despite his extraordinary service to our nation – he was treated abominably. That would never happen today – and I rejoice in that.

“I was fortunate enough to be in a position to end the discrimination against gay members of the civil service. My only regret was that this liberation was so long delayed.”

Much has changed at MI5 in the decades since the ban was lifted, with the intelligence agency topping Stonewall’s rankings for LGBT+ inclusive employers in 2016.

At the time, Sir Andrew said: “Diversity is vital for MI5, not just because it’s right that we represent the communities we serve, but because we rely on the skills of the most talented people whoever they are, and wherever they may be.

“The accolade from Stonewall is a great acknowledgement of continued progress we have made over recent years in ensuring we draw on the widest possible pool of talent in our vital work.”

For decades, gay people were hounded across British public life.

In 2017, the Foreign Office released documents shedding light on its own historic anti-gay policy – and internal discussions within the FCO.

In the 1980s, one official said: “I am in favour of erecting a notice, ‘No homosexuals should apply’ on the perimeter of the service.”

Historians concluded: “Numerous individual cases throughout the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s demonstrate that gay men were interrogated, made to recount in detail the exact nature of their private sexual lives, and then quietly retired or moved to another government department.”

“Indeed, so widespread was the practice of ‘burying’ such cases that at a meeting in 1972 one FCO official reported that “the DHSS bewailed the fact that… their ranks were swelling with communists and homosexuals’.”

 

More: British intelligence, Homophobia, MI5, Sir Andrew Parker, Sir John Major, Stonewall

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