Joe Ousalice is a 68-year-old veteran who served in Britain’s Royal Navy for almost eighteen years. Because of his dedication to fighting for his country, he was awarded a long-service medal that was physically cut off when he was expelled from the Navy for being bisexual, according to CNN.
Needless to say, the forceful removal of his medal has been traumatic for Ousalice, as he says that he was made to feel “disgusting” for not being straight. To put his service in more context, Ousalice served in the Falklands War, traveled with the Navy in Hong Kong and Egypt, and carried out six tours in Northern Ireland. He said that “The Navy wasn’t just my job, it was my life” and that he shouldn’t have had to choose between living authentically and serving in the military. I’m not too familiar with military service as I have never served and never will but he seemed quite dedicated to his service so it is disheartening to know that all of his hard work was literally stripped from him because he is attracted to both men and women.
Head of legal casework at the human rights organization Liberty, Emma Norton, is the woman handling Ousalice’s case and has mentioned that “at the time, the Ministry of Defence were actively seeking out LGBT people and submitting them to surveillance and hounding them out.” I can’t imagine having that happen to me or having to hide who I am in fear of prosecution but it is an unfortunate reality still for many people around the world.
Additionally, Norton has said that Liberty has been contacted by many LGBT people who have told them that they experienced people unlawfully opening their mail, being followed into pubs, having their families questioned, and living a secret life. This happened to Ousalice as in 1992 while on shore leave he was charged with and convicted of indecency in a civilian court, which he denied, and was later accused indecent assault. These charges were cleared at a martial hearing. However, he was still convicted of “conduct prejudicial to good order and naval discipline” and was forced to state to the public that he is bisexual.
In a statement, Ousalice said, “I was made to feel like I was disgusting and in the end, I was hounded out on some trumped-up charges and told that because I was attracted to men, my 18 years of service counted for nothing” and that it took him a long time to recover from the damage that was caused.
Liberty plans to sue to Ministry of Defence is Ousalice does not get his medal and badges back as their removal was a result of years of discrimination against LGBTQ people in the UK and that, as Norton says if the medal and badges are returned, it will it “send a very strong message to LGBT people that their work is valued and what they gave the forces is valued.”
In the same fashion, Ousalice said that he wants his medal back because he wants to be recognized for the service he provided and that he wants to let other LGBTQ veterans know that their service is wanted and valued in the same way that a heterosexual person’s is.
It is sad that someone who worked so hard for so long could have their recognition stripped from them simply because they aren’t straight. That policy has long since ended but as you can see, people are still affected by it after so many years. In the future, I hope that nobody has to go through this trauma and that they can live their lives the way that they want to.