Ex-soldier who was jailed for kissing a fellow serviceman in the 1980s becomes one of the first gay veterans to have his ceremonial cap badge returned

An ex-soldier who was jailed for kissing a fellow serviceman in the 1980s has become one of the first gay veterans to have his ceremonial cap badge returned to him. 

Fusilier Stephen Close, 61, was court-martialled, discharged with disgrace, imprisoned and placed on the sex offenders register for having a gay relationship with a fellow soldier.

But earlier this week, he was invited to the Royal Fusiliers’ regimental HQ at the Tower of London to re-receive his military cap and badge – 40 years on from his discharge.

Mr Close from Salford, Greater Manchester, said: ‘It was a proud moment for me. It took a lifetime, but it came and it has given me closure.

‘I served alongside my brother, he said during my court martial he loves me and I am a fusilier and always will be, no matter what they said in there.

‘He was at my ceremony and had a tear in his eye.’

Fusilier Steve Close receives his beret and hackle from Major General Jon Swift, the Colonel of the Regiment of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers

Stephen Close (pictured), 61, was court-martialled, discharged with disgrace, imprisoned and placed on the sex offenders register for having a gay relationship with a fellow soldier

Stephen Close (pictured), 61, was court-martialled, discharged with disgrace, imprisoned and placed on the sex offenders register for having a gay relationship with a fellow soldier

The 61-year-old was discharged from the army after being charged with gross indecency and jailed for six months

The 61-year-old was discharged from the army after being charged with gross indecency and jailed for six months

Mr Close was stationed in Berlin in 1983 when he was reported by a colleague for kissing a fellow soldier on a night out.

The pair were questioned and swabbed for DNA samples before being paraded around the army base in front of their colleagues. 

The 61-year-old was discharged from the army after being charged with gross indecency and jailed for six months.

Mr Close and his partner served their time in separate prisons and never saw each other again.

While in prison, Mr Close was forced to wear a red ribbon to mark him out to guards and fellow inmates.

He said: ‘I went out with some friends and ended up back at one of their rooms.

‘Their room was shared with another soldier who I found attractive. I was still a virgin at the time, it’s not like it was a regular thing.

‘We got chatting and there was a bit of chemistry and we started kissing.

‘He suggested we go somewhere more private and we went into another room.

‘We thought his roommate had collapsed, but he hadn’t and he saw us kissing and reported us.

‘I suffered with anxiety for a long time. It was frustration really, it took a toll on my mental health.

‘It wasn’t just the court case, it was the total abandonment from my military mates, who knew who I was. That hurt.’

Homosexuality was de-criminalised in 1967, but it remained an offence in the armed forces until 1994.

And a ban on homosexuals serving in the British military was not lifted until 2000.

Upon his release from prison, Mr Close’s conviction stayed on his civilian criminal record.

He was therefore registered as a sex offender and was unable to work with children or vulnerable people until he was given a royal pardon in 2013.

Mr Close and his partner served their time in separate prisons and never saw each other again

Mr Close and his partner served their time in separate prisons and never saw each other again

Pictured: The Regiment of Royal Fusiliers ceremonial cap badge

Pictured: The Regiment of Royal Fusiliers ceremonial cap badge

Mr Close was pardoned the same year as computer pioneer and code-breaker Alan Turing after years of campaigning.

The 61-year-old added: ‘In Nazi Germany, gays had to wear pink triangles, I had to wear a red ribbon.

‘In 2012, I was contacted by Greater Manchester Police who were investigation crimes. I had to give a DNA sample as I was a sex offender.

‘Eventually following pressure from Peter Tatchell, the police deleted my DNA.

‘I received a Royal Pardon in 2013 and my record was wiped clean, but by this time I was 50 years old.’

Restoring cap badges to discharged service personnel was among the recommendations made by an LGBTQ independent veterans review last year.

Mr Close said that for years he had felt ‘too ashamed’ to attend Remembrance events and had found it ‘too painful’ to attend regimental reunions.

He added: ‘There were a lot of people in the room that day that came in after the ban was lifted.

‘My battalion has been quite proud to recruit LGBT recruits to demonstrate they’re openly accepting of gay people.

‘I would encourage any young gay person to join the army now, but it’s taken a while.

‘Even a few years after the ban was lifted, I wouldn’t have, but I would now.

‘People are accepting it more now, eventually it just become the norm, it’s a good thing.’

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