How attitudes have changed 20 years on from military's LGBT ban being lifted

Watch a report by ITV News Anglia's Victoria Lampard

Up until 20 years ago, lesbian, gay and bisexual people were banned from serving in the British military.

Many were forced to hide their true identity or risk being dismissed and sometimes, stripped of medals.

In January 2000, a ruling by the European court of human rights scrapped the ban on LGB people serving in the military.

Sergeant Alastair Smith-Weston came out eight years later.  He's currently working as a training instructor based at RAF Chicksands in Bedfordshire. 

Sergeant Alastair Smith-Weston Credit: ITV Anglia

"The Ministry of Defence recognises the treatment back then was unjust and has tried its hardest," he said.

"Events like the LGBT ball that I run and some of the other organisations and charities that are being set up aim to try and bridge that gap between the individuals who were persecuted for their sexulaity and those who possibly never had the opportunity to enjoy the service life." 

Transgender people have technically always been free to serve in the military, but the LGB ban meant anything that bent rigid rules on gender and sexuality was frowned upon.

Four years after the ban was lifted, Warrant Officer Class 2 Deborah Penny made history as the first transgender soldier to serve on the front line in Afghanistan.

Deborah Penny

"I thought I'd destroyed all the photos to be honest because I wanted to remove history", Deborah said.

"It was quite scary at times. From my space where I was Trans, being a trans soldier meant that everything had to be hidden."

Deborah joined the army as 'David'. Credit: ITV Anglia

In 2004, Deborah declared she wanted to become a woman while she was working for a bomb disposal unit in Colchester.

She says since she transitioned, the army has fundamentally changed.

"It was me being the soldier I always wanted to be and able to be that soldier", Deborah added.

"The army is very inclusive now.  It's very supportive.  It values its soldiers a lot more.  It engages, it values, it inspires and that's what the shift has been."

The lifting of the ban was hailed by campaigners as an important and long overdue step on the road to equality.

Now military personnel can be seen marching in their uniforms at pride parades.