FCDO says sorry for diplomatic service’s ban on LGBT+ staff

Department has made “great progress” in 30 years since policy was scrapped, according to perm sec Philip Barton
Sir Philip Barton delivers his message Credit: Twitter

By Jim Dunton

06 Jul 2021

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office perm sec Sir Philip Barton has issued a detailed formal apology for the diplomatic service’s historic ban on openly homosexual men and women, which ended 30 years ago this month.

In a video message shared on Twitter, Barton said that while the diplomatic service – of which he is head – had made “great progress” in being an inclusive employer of LGBT+ staff over the past three decades there was “still progress to be made”.

Sporting a rainbow lanyard, Barton acknowledged that the diplomatic service had lagged behind on LGBT+ rights at a time ”progress was made in wider society” and that he impact of the ban had continued after the rule was lifted in 1991.

“The ban was in place because there was a perception that LGBT people were more susceptible than their straight counterparts to blackmail and, therefore, that they posed a security risk,” he said.

“That meant LGBT+ individuals were not able to join the diplomatic service or serve their country overseas. 

“It also meant that LBGT+ people who worked for the diplomatic service could lose their jobs if they were open and honest about who they were and who they loved.

“Because of this misguided view, people’s careers were ended, cut short, or stopped before they could even begin.”

Barton said in his three-and-a-half-minute message that the diplomatic service had “undoubtedly deprived itself” of some of the UK’s brightest and best talent as a result of the ban.

“I want to apologise publicly for the ban and the impact it had on our LGBT staff and their loved ones, both here in the UK and abroad,” he said.

“Some staff were treated badly for being who they were, and honestly disclosing their sexuality. Others felt unable to come out and to be honest about who they were, even after the ban was lifted.

“In the 30 years since the ban was lifted, the FCDO has made great progress in becoming a proud and inclusive employer of LGBT+ people, and a champion for LGBT+ rights around the world.

“I pay tribute to all our LGBT+ staff – past and present – who helped secure change within the diplomatic service, while representing their country with professionalism and dedication.

“I thank them for the contributions they have made, and continue to make to serving their country and representing us on the world stage.

“While there is still progress to be made, our diplomatic service now better serves the people of the United Kingdom because it better reflects the society and the values it represents – those of diversity, openness and inclusion.”

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said he was “grateful to the UK’s LGBT diplomats, past and present”, who represented the country “brilliantly” around the world.

“As co-chair of the Equal Rights Coalition, we are working with 41 partner countries to tackle discriminatory laws and prejudice globally,” he said.

“The UK champions LGBT rights because we believe freedom and tolerance are a source of strength in communities at home and abroad.”

The UK is co-hosting a conference of the intergovernmental ERC today and tomorrow.

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