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In 1981, Jean was thrown out of the Army for being gay. The career she’d always dreamed of stolen from her because of who she loved. The sense of shame has remained with her ever since, and even caused her to try to end her life. 

Wrapped up in that trauma is the effect of serious sexual assaults she endured during her time in the military. 

The four years Jean spent in the Army have cast a long, dark shadow over the rest of her life. 

She’s been unable to hold down a job. Relationships didn’t last. And she spent 30 years ‘trying to survive in the mental health system’, as she struggled with eating disorders, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts.  

Throughout it all, her twin sister Jo has been by her side. Thanks to that special bond as well as support from military charities, including Help for Heroes, Jean is only now beginning to find a sense of peace and happiness.  

Jean and her sister Jo lie down holding rifles in the Army
Jean and her twin sister, Jo - Help for Heroes

Jean said: “I joined the Army at the age of 19, three weeks after Jo joined. 

“My father was in the artillery and my mother was in the RAF. I always aspired to join the military.  

“I loved the thought of serving my country.” 

There were times when Jean was happy in the Army. She thrived as a physical training instructor and loved the camaraderie. 

Then one day, out of the blue, things took a drastic turn for the worse. 

Interrogation and intimidation 

“The Special Investigation Branch, or SIB, came on to the camp, and my name was called out. I was taken into a room with two SIB officers. They shouted at me saying I was a lesbian and they’d find me out. 

“I was marched down the corridor in front of everyone, and the SIB officers carried two binbags. They went into my room, and I had to stand there while they trashed my room looking for evidence. They took a Tina Turner poster off my wall saying that because I liked Tina Turner, I must be a lesbian.  

Jean standing in her Army uniform smiling
Jean did not know she was gay when she joined the Army - Help for Heroes

“They took my photographs and letters. They commented on the fact that there was dirty linen in my wash basket, which meant that I wasn’t clean. I was totally humiliated. They went off with what they called evidence. 

“The next morning, I was interrogated by the same two SIB officers.  

“One moment one of them said everything would be ok if I admitted being a lesbian. And then the other would shout questions and threaten me.  

“They threatened to take me to the medical block and strip search me for love bites. They threatened to go after my sister Jo because they knew she was gay. And they threatened to tell my Mum.  

“They asked intimate questions about what I did in bed with women. I had no support as I wasn't allowed to have any representation. I wasn’t allowed a break. After six hours, I just collapsed and signed the form. And that’s what got me dismissed from the Army – for being gay.”  

Jean looking to camera
Jean lost the job she loved - Help for Heroes

Witch hunts 

“I lost the job I loved. I lost my friends, and my accommodation. It was all taken away just because I loved someone of the same sex.  

“It didn’t just happen to me, it happened to thousands of people. The witch hunts they carried out to try to eradicate anyone who was gay, were disgusting. All we wanted to do was serve our country, just like every other soldier. 

“On my discharge papers it said I was being discharged because of ‘Disgraceful conduct of an unnatural kind’. 

“The impact of being discharged for being gay was massive. I had so much shame and self-hatred, and I felt worthless. I felt totally lost. I didn’t feel as if I could accept my sexuality because it made me feel it was a bad thing to be gay. I was left with a sense of total rejection, a feeling of nothingness. 

“They destroyed our lives.” 



A living nightmare 

After her Mum died, Jean started drinking heavily and things went from bad to worse. 

“I started to get nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, depression and was eventually diagnosed with Complex PTSD.I was feeling so numb. The only time I felt anything was when I was drunk.”  

Jean looking solemn showing her scars
Jean self-harmed as a coping strategy - Help for Heroes

Jean regularly self-harmed as a coping mechanism. Then one day, everything felt too much and she made a serious attempt on her life. Thankfully, someone found her in time and she was rushed to hospital, where she was put on a life support machine. 

Although she recovered physically, for years Jean couldn’t find any respite from the mental torment. 

Finally asking for help 

“It’s only been in the last three years I’ve felt able to approach military charities for help. For 40 years I felt they wouldn’t want to help me if they found out I was discharged for being gay. I was worried I’d be ostracised all over again.” 

Jean has had support from Help for Heroes, as well as from Salute Her UK and Fighting With Pride.  

“Fighting With Pride has worked so hard to try to get reparation for people who have been discharged for being gay. There are people who don’t have a pension and are living on the breadline.”  

I didn’t know my sexuality when I joined up’ 

“I joined up very young. I was still in my teens and I didn’t know my sexuality. I know others were the same. I discovered my sexuality as I was serving. And then I found out it was illegal to be gay. What was I supposed to do? Some people managed to serve, but under very stressful situations and left early. Others, like me, were found out and discharged.” 

It remained illegal to be homosexual if you served in the UK Armed Forces up until the year 2000. Lord Etherton has since carried out a review into the impact the ban has had on members of the LGBT+ community.  

Following publication of the Etherton report, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak apologised on behalf of the British State to all who were discriminated against.  

jean and jo in pride rainbows at a campaign
Twin sisters; Jo & Jean, have been campaigning with Fighting with Pride - Help for Heroes

However, time is running out for many veterans who are now in their old age and in ill health. That’s why we’re campaigning alongside Fighting with Pride to ensure the Government moves with urgency to pay the compensation promised to all those who were affected by this unjust law. 

Survivor’s guilt 

Having been Jean’s main source of support over the years, Jo has recently started to receive counselling from our Hidden Wounds mental health service for the toll it’s taken on her. 

Jo said: “I've got survivor's guilt, because I was in a relationship, and I wasn’t dragged in. I left before I was. It affected me in a big way how they said to Jean, ‘Sign here and we won’t come after your sister’. And knowing what Jean’s had to endure all these years.” 

Jo and Jean have recently moved in together. 

Jean said: “I can’t turn the clock back, but now I can look forward and that’s what I want to do. I’m in the twilight of my life, but I’ve got hope back.”   

Jean and jo look at each other smiling in their front doorway
Jean and her sister; Jo recently moved in together - Help for Heroes

The world feels less scary’ 

Jean has been taking part in photography courses with Help for Heroes. 

“Photography has always been a passion of mine. When I’m out with my camera and looking through the viewfinder, the world feels less scary.  

Jean stands holding a camera, looking happy
Jean finds photography helps with her PTSD - Help for Heroes

“It helps with mindfulness. To be in the moment and to capture the moment. With PTSD, the horrors keep coming back in your mind but when I’m out there with my camera, it helps to dispel that. 

“I attended a Help for Heroes day in Birmingham where we met the photography course tutor and other veterans. It was lovely meeting veterans with a shared experience. Ok, it rained a lot, but we had good fun.” 


“The first time I felt proud to be a veteran was when – thanks to Fighting With Pride – we were able to march as LGBT+ veterans at the Cenotaph in 2021. Having put my beret on for the first time in 40 years, I stood alongside fellow veterans.  

“The national anthem was played and I stood to attention. It felt like all this shame, that I’d had for so many years, was washing away from me. It was like I could feel it leaving my body and I was filling with pride. It took me back to being that 19-year-old again. 

“I loved being in the Army. I’d join up again tomorrow if I could.” 

At Help for Heroes we support anyone affected by military service. And we’re proud to stand in solidarity with the LGBT+ community in their fight for justice. Join our mission. Make sure no one fights the Veterans War alone.