Honorary Colonel and Olympic champion Dame Kelly Holmes has spoken about how she "lived in fear" in the Armed Forces while hiding her sexuality as a gay woman as she celebrated LGBT+ history month at Parliament.
Dame Kelly, an Honorary Colonel of the Royal Armoured Corps Training Regiment (RACTR), joined the Army when she was 17, serving for almost 10 years. She had to hide her sexuality because there was a ban on LGBT people serving in the military.
Speaking to Forces News as she attended her first LGBT+ history month event at Parliament as an honoured guest of Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, she said that the difference in 2023 for those serving is like "night and day".
- The British Army veteran who is Fighting With Pride to help the LGBT+ community
- MOD admits destroying records of gay veterans sacked from military
- Did drag help men explore gender non-conformity during the First World War?
Last year, Dame Kelly publicly revealed her sexuality for the first time - breaking decades of silence.
"I loved everything about what the forces gave me as an individual," Dame Kelly said.
"But I hated being part of an organisation that restricted people just living and for me, it left that fear in my life for 34 years."
Dame Kelly served for almost a decade as a qualified HGV driver and Physical Training Instructor and in 1998 she was awarded an MBE in recognition of her services to the Armed Forces.
She hid her sexuality throughout all those years.
Dame Kelly has expressed how relieved she is that the situation is very different now.
Speaking on what conditions are like now for serving LGBTQ+ personnel, Dame Kelly said: "It's amazing to see the transformation, with the ban being lifted in the 2000s and to see over that 22-year period the changes to allow everybody and anyone to live their life authentically and it not to affect their position or their job.
"I just think it is like night and day."
Dame Kelly said it was not just the military's LGBT ban that kept her from living openly as a gay woman, saying society as a whole was behind on embracing "that we all have a right to live our life authentically".
During Dame Kelly's time as an international athlete, being gay was also not something that was discussed openly in the field of sports.
Her place in sports history was cemented when she became the first British woman to win two gold medals at the same games during the 2004 Athens Olympics, and last year, she decided to come out at the age of 52 to end years of fear.
The veteran and Olympic champion said she would have loved to have had the opportunity to serve under the same circumstances as military personnel have today.
She said she hopes that her experience can encourage other serving personnel to live as their authentic selves.
Giving advice to anyone who is still serving and is unsure of where they stand, Dame Kelly said: "The military has given you that opportunity to be you."
She encouraged serving personnel to take that opportunity, saying that there are not many other instances in life where one gets to the same level of freedom and acceptance.
She added: "I would have loved to have been you.
"So don't be fearful anymore, you have a right to smile and be happy."