The head of MI5, the U.K.’s venerable domestic intelligence agency, has apologized for the years the organization excluded gay people.
Until 1991, MI5 would not hire anyone known to be gay, and closeted employees who were found out would be fired, all because of a policy that considered gay people a security risk.
“It must have caused all sorts of hurt to people,” MI5 leader Andrew Parker told the BBC in an interview upon his retirement. “And that has to be a matter of regret and shame for all us.”
This was “the first time an MI5 head has acknowledged its past failings on this issue,” the BBC reports.
Lifting of the ban came a quarter-century after the U.K. decriminalized homosexuality. Prime Minister John Major was responsible for the ban’s end, and in 2017 he reflected on it in a column for PinkNews: “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.”
Also in 2017, the British government released a report on the effects of the ban. “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,” it noted.
By the time of the report’s release, much had changed at MI5. In 2016, it held the top position in civil rights group Stonewall’s list of LGBTQ-inclusive employers. “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,” Parker said at that time, according to PinkNews. “The accolade from Stonewall is a great acknowledgment of continued progress we have made over recent years in ensuring we draw on the widest possible pool of talent in our vital work.”