The ongoing battle to restore pride

The ongoing battle to restore pride

The four years Jean spent in the Army had devastating personal and professional repercussions and resulted in a legacy of trauma and shame.

Throughout it all, her twin sister Jo has been by her side. Thanks to their special bond, and support from military charities including Help for Heroes, Jean, now 67, is beginning to find a sense of peace.  

Jean joined the Army at the age of 19, three weeks after her twin, Jo, who is also gay. Their parents were in the military, so Jean had always aspired to follow in the family footsteps and was proud at the thought of serving her country.

Daily Echo: Jean followed in her parents footsteps in joining the military Jean followed in her parents footsteps in joining the military (Image: Help for Heroes)

Then one day in 1981 her world imploded when officers from the Army’s Special Investigations Branch accused her of being gay. “They went into my room, and I had to stand there while they trashed it looking for evidence. They took my photographs and letters. I was totally humiliated,” she said.

“They asked intimate questions about my sexuality. After six hours, I just collapsed and signed their form. And that statement is what got me dismissed from the Army – for loving someone of the same sex.”

“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. It destroyed our lives.

Daily Echo: 'Now I can look forward, and that’s what I want to do' - Jean‘Now I can look forward, and that’s what I want to do’ – Jean (Image: Help for Heroes)

“I joined up very young, I was still in my teens and I didn’t know my sexuality then. I know others were the same. I discovered my sexuality as I was serving.

“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.” she said.

In the last three years Jean has only 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.”

She has had support from Help for Heroes and Fighting With Pride, which are campaigning for the government to urgently offer a fair compensation deal for veterans who were wrongfully dismissed because of their sexuality.Having been Jean’s main source of support over the years, her twin sister Jo has recently started to receive counselling from Help for Heroes’ mental health service for the toll it has taken on her also. 

Daily Echo: Jean McDonald (L) and sister Jo benefitted from joining a Help for Heroes photography course.Jean McDonald (L) and sister Jo benefitted from joining a Help for Heroes photography course. (Image: Help For Heroes)

Help for Heroes has also supported Jean and Jo through its photography courses.

Jean said: “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.  

“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.” 

Jean added: “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.”

Help for Heroes are proud to stand in solidarity with the LGBT+ community in their fight for justice. Join their mission. Make sure no one fights the Veterans War alone.

Visit: helpforheroes.org.uk

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