Defending with Pride: The Power of the Wreath is a powerful two-part podcast that explores the history of LGBTIQ+ military service in Australia, produced by award-winning podcast maker, Megan Spencer.
It begins in 1982 with the unsuccessful attempt of five gay ex-servicemen to lay a wreath at the Shrine of Remembrance on ANZAC Day, to honour their “fallen gay and lesbian brothers and sisters”. Forty years later, on ANZAC Day 2022, the story comes full circle with the annual Rainbow Wreath-laying service by DEFGLIS uniformed members and allies, in the Shrine’s hallowed Sanctuary.
In between these two landmark moments, the story of LGBTIQ+ service unfolds through the voices and lived experience of current and former ADF service members, pre- and post- the 1992 ban on “homosexual service” in Australia’s military.
The Power of the Wreath podcast accompanies the Shrine’s new exhibition, Defending with Pride: Stories of LGBTQ+ Service, on display from 1 August 2022 to August 2023. This is Part 2 of a two-part podcast. To listen to Part 1 of this program, please click .
Parental guidance recommended: this audio program contains adult themes, mild coarse language and sexual references. It also contains references to suicide. If you need support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. A comprehensive list of support services is also included below.
The opinions expressed in this podcast are those of individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Shrine of Remembrance.
Squadron Leader Nathan White
Professor Noah Riseman
Stuart Martin (former Flight Lieutenant)
Max Campbell (former Warrant Officer, dec.)
Flight Lieutenant Lachlan Saunders
Phil Neil (former Leading Aircraftman)
Group Captain Mick Janson
Grateful thanks to each speaker for generously sharing their insights, research and/or lived experience for this podcast.
Excerpts of The Dawn Service at the Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne, ANZAC Day, 25th April 2022, recorded by the Shrine of Remembrance.
Original “Kissed” music: Philip Brophy
Selected tracks from The Diggers’ Requiem: arranged, curated and conducted by Christopher Latham (musical artist in residence at the Australian War Memorial) with soloists. Used with kind permission.
- ’62,000 Bells For 62,000 Australian Dead’, recorded at the ANU School of Music by Veronica Bailey, Thomas Laue and Chris Latham (in Movement 12: ‘Lux Aeterna – In Paradisum’).
- ‘Dead March from Saul’, for accordion, choir, soloists & orchestra. Composer: GF Handel (in Movement 1: ‘Requiem Aeternum / Rest Eternal’).
- ‘Lament For The Pipers Who Fell In The Great War’. Composer: Pipe Major John Grant (in Movement 12: ‘Lux Aeterna – In Paradisum’).
The Diggers’ Requiem was co-commissioned by Australian War Memorial and the Australian Government Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The concert performed in Amiens, France, on April 23, 2018, by Orchestre de Picardie and the Jena Philharmonic and with Australian soloists, conducted by Chris Latham. Listen
DEFGLIS members and supporters: From left: GPCAPT Mick Jansen, FLTLT Danie Bunting, FLGOFF(AAFC) Dan Morris, FLTLT Brad Milsteed, FLTLT Lachlan Saunders, Stuart Martin, Bron Richardson, LTCOL Kristy Hudson, Sameer Mane. Image: Susan Gordon-Brown
Professor Noah Riseman; Nick Henderson, Ange Bailey and Graham Willett from the Australian Queer Archives.
Department of Defence and Defence Media; Nathan White, Rachael Cosgrove and DEFGLIS; the Shrine team: Sue Burgess, Laura Thomas and Kate Spinks, curator of Defending with Pride.
See the Defending with Pride: Stories of LGBTQ+ service exhibition now at the Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne, until August 2023.
Wreath-laying at the Shrine:
We welcome all members of our community to lay wreaths or other floral offerings at any of the many memorials at the Shrine. The Shrine hosts more than 150 official commemorative services each year to remember the service of Australian men and women, particularly Victorians, and we welcome our community to attend and participate. To find out more about remembrance services, or to apply to hold your own, visit this
If this podcast raises any issues for you, support is available from the following services:
- Australia’s first nationally-oriented counselling and referral service for LGBTI people. Phone: 1800 184 527
- Defence Gay and Lesbian Information Service provides policy and community information to gay, lesbian and bisexual, transgender, intersex and non-binary serving and ex-serving members of Defence and their families.
- (DVLA) A support and advocacy association for Australian Defence Force personnel, their family and their friends who were adversely impacted by Defence's historic anti-LGBTI policies. Phone 0400 124 213.
- provides professional, affordable counselling for members of LGBTIQ+ communities and individuals or couples who are affected by or at risk of HIV.
- Free and confidential, 24/7 national counselling service for Australian veterans and their families, provided through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA). Phone: 1800 011 046
- Suicide and crisis support. Phone: 13 11 14
- Free, immediate, short-term counselling advice and referral. Phone: 1300 224 636
- 24-hour counselling service for suicide prevention and mental health. Phone: 1300 659 467
This podcast contains adult themes, mild coarse language and sexual references that may not be suitable for younger ears. It also contains references to suicide, which some listeners may find distressing. If you need support, you can always call Lifeline on 13 11 14. The opinions expressed in this podcast are those of individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Shrine of Remembrance. Hello, I'm Megan Spencer and this is part two of Defending with Pride, the Power of the Wreath, a podcast for the Shrine of Remembrance. And if you've missed part one, I really encourage you to listen. You can catch up on part one anytime on the Shrine website or on your favourite podcast platform.
NOAH RISEMAN: So can you tell me a bit about how that group came about your role and what happened?
MAX CAMPBELL: GESA was dreamed up amongst only about five people. We all suddenly realised that each of us had been in the services. And I was the only one who actually got a clean discharge. All the others were kicked out. There were various stories of how it was done, but basically there was the witch hunters, you mentioned before that they were found out and they were kicked (out).
That's the voice of the late Max Campbell talking there with Noah Riseman.
I just sort of said what fairly innocently 'Why don't we sort of form some sort of group or association or something?'
In 2015, Noah did a comprehensive interview with Max about his life and military service in what would be the final years of Max's life. He passed away in 2018 just shy of his 75th birthday.
Yeah, a little bit political in that we'd maybe do a wreath on Anzac Day, but be prepared to be interviewed and that if someone asked.
Joining in his late teens, Max Campbell served in the Royal Australian Air Force between 1961 and 1981. Rising to the rank of Warrant Officer over his 20-year career, he served at various posts around Australia, including Laverton and Point Cook. He also served during the Vietnam War in the late 60s for a year stationed at Phan Rang with number two squadron.
So we sort of left it at that by saying, 'Okay, we'll gather as a group, and how about' - and I don't know if it was me or someone else - 'but how about G-E-S-A?' and everyone said 'What?' 'Gay Ex-Services Association'
Max Campbell was a founder of GESA, and it was his idea to lay the wreath at the Shrine of Remembrance in 1982. And not only that, he went back to try and lay the wreaths again in 1983 and 1984. Here's Noah Riseman again to share more of Max's remarkable story.
Sure, I first met Max in 2015. And I was put on to him by Nick Henderson from the Australian Queer Archives. When he knew I was doing this project, he said 'You have to speak to Max Campbell because Max Campbell was a member of GESA, which was the Gay Ex-Services Association'. And I had the pleasure of interviewing Max and getting to know Max in the final years of his life. He served in the Air Force for 20 years, Max was an education officer. So his role was very much in some senses, the librarian, where he was doing a lot of the work providing education materials, especially to officers, but also to noncommissioned officers and others. Now, through most of his career in the Air Force, Max was closeted. So in that sense, Max didn't run afoul of any of the policies because he didn't even know he was gay. And that was it was really at the very end of his career. And then he discharged. And after he discharged, Max did become involved in the gay community here in Melbourne. Max worked as the doorman at Mandate which was one of the gay nightclubs here in Melbourne. But he was very quiet like he, you know, you met Max, he was the most quiet reserved man and so it's in some ways, I found it funny to know he was this person that everyone knew. Anyway, Max had quite a few mates who all coincidentally, were also ex service people. At the very, very end of 1981, there were reports in the tabloid press in Truth about five members of the Air Force who had been caught for being gay and who are being dismissed. Then, in early '82, there were reports that the government was about to pass new legislation which did become the Defence Force Discipline Act, which was going to, I suppose, streamline and overhaul the military justice system. And there were some reports in the press that they might also allow gay and lesbian people to serve. Very quickly, the Victorian president of the RSL, Bruce Ruxton, came out and absolutely condemned this. Bruce Ruxton, for those who don't know, was an ultra-conservative person, very outspoken. And it turned out that the government wasn't planning on lifting the ban, so the ban did go on. But when this happened, Max and their mates were really upset by this. And they got together one night in the pub, and they decided to form a group and they called themselves the Gay Ex-Services Association.
And they were specifically pretty teed off about the homophobic remarks that Bruce Ruxton was making very publicly at that time, wasn't he?
NOAH RISEMAN: Yes, Ruxton didn't just say he was against this, he made some incredibly homophobic remarks, inaccurate and bigoted, and they were incredibly unhappy as veterans. These are people who served in the armed forces. And the main action they decided they were going to do was they were going to lay a wreath at Melbourne's Shrine of Remembrance on Anzac Day, both as a symbol of remembrance for those who've fallen who are gay and lesbian as they would have said back then, and as an act of defiance against Mr. Ruxton. Now, this is where for a brief moment, Max leaves the story, because Max happened to have a trip planned overseas at the time, so he wasn't able to participate in this. He came up with a great idea and said, 'Bye, guys, I'm going'. But this event did go ahead. And this did get quite a bit of publicity. And it is a moment that's been a bit more remembered in Australian queer history, where five of the members of GESA approached the Shrine, they had this wreath, and as they approached Bruce Ruxton, and the Shrine commissioners, very dramatically, turned them away, refused to let them enter and they were sort of escorted away.
MAX CAMPBELL: They turned up all sporting GESA and the wreath and so they started up the steps, the guards who are actually sworn police, they closed ranks, and barred them. And when they (said) 'What's going on?', they were almost arrested for what I don't, but they were going to be placed under arrest.
NOAH RISEMAN: There's dramatic photos of this that were captured because there was a journalist from the gay press who was with them. It definitely made the LGBTIQ media and a little bit in the mainstream media. And it really upset those men as well. It really upset them because they were essentially being told that their service was meaningless and it was worthless.
MAX CAMPBELL: And I didn't know any of this until I got home three and a half months later. Anyway, they sort of got away they weren't arrested. And that was it for the year.
MEGAN SPENCER: Noah says that after this, GESA continued to meet. When Anzac Day 1983 came around, Max was determined to try and lay a wreath again. This time he would be there.
MAX CAMPBELL: GESA did continue sort of having monthly meetups, but when Anzac Day was rolling around the next year, there was this question, 'Oh, are we going to do this again?' And the five men who did it that first year and were horribly turned away, demoralised, you know, they didn't want to do it again. But Max did put up his hand. Max was willing to do it again. And he did manage to get the help of one of those original five gentleman who was fondly known as Teddy bear Terry went back to the Shrine of Remembrance to do it again.
MAX CAMPBELL: Well, things went a bit differently this time in 1983. With the intention of laying a wreath on behalf of GESA, Max rang to check when the public wreath-laying time was at the Shrine, as had the members in 1982, the year before. Max wore his service medals and a GESA badge. A sympathetic policeman who'd also served in Vietnam, told Bruce Ruxton that Max had established every right to be there and could not be stopped after Bruce had spotted Max from the VIP area.
MAX CAMPBELL: The policeman had a Vietnam ribbon, too. I mean, he just sort of said, 'When were you there?' So, we just talked amicably for a little while longer. He went back and reported to Bruce and oh, if looks could kill Bruce Ruxton would be a murderer.
NOAH RISEMAN: And Max did manage to lay that wreath that year, he wasn't turned away that year.
MAX CAMPBELL: Spent my moment and walked out.
NOAH RISEMAN: So Max did that in '83. Didn't get the same press as the year before but there was one tiny little photo of Max and the wreath that appeared in the gay press. And it was part of a bigger spread that was covering the Women Against Rape and war protests that were going on that same year. '84 rolled around, 'Are we going to do this again?' Max puts up his hand again. This time, things did not go according to plan, not quite as dramatic as that first 1982. But Max turned up at the public wreath laying time, he did come across the commissioner, and they wouldn't let him lay the wreath. But Max being a very peaceful, gentle person he was, he left. But interestingly, there was a journalist there.
MAX CAMPBELL: And it just so happened that reporter from The Age was there and saw everything.
NOAH RISEMAN: And the journalist obviously saw something and went up to Max and asked what happened. And Max explained, he said, 'I'm a gay ex-servicemen, and I was gonna lay this wreath for the Gay Ex-Services Association. They wouldn't let me'.
MAX CAMPBELL: The wreath always had a card on it in memory of all our fallen gay brothers and sisters. And so we were just (thinking) 'Oh god, another wreath gone for nothing'. And we were just walking down the steps and he came over introduced himself and he said, 'Do I understand rightly what happened there?'
NOAH RISEMAN: Later in the day, Max got a phone call. And this is before mobile phones. So I don't even know how they managed to do all this.
MAX CAMPBELL: And he said, 'Have you got a phone? Or phone number I can contact you on? And I said 'Why?' and he said 'I'd like to actually speak a little bit more about everything. Plus, if you're willing to have a photograph taken.'
NOAH RISEMAN: But later in the day, the journalist apparently went to the Shrine commissioners and rang them for comment. And they said, 'Well, no, actually anyone can lay a wreath at this time. That shouldn't have happened. Yes, if he wants to come back later today, he can do that'. Somehow someone managed to get Max's number. They rang him. And later in the day, Max did manage to go back and lay that wreath again.
MEGAN SPENCER: The journalist's name was David Humphries, the Chairman of the Shrine at that time was wing commander Peter Isaacson.
MAX CAMPBELL: Apparently, the Chairman really put his foot down and sort of said 'You will not impede'.
MEGAN SPENCER: 'The association was allowed to lay a wreath last year and should have been allowed to this year,' he was quoted as saying in Humphries' article, published in The Age on the 26th of April 1984. Max is pictured in it with GESA member Mike Jarman, who was one of the five ex servicemen from 1982. They both went back to the Shrine later that afternoon to finally lay the wreath.
It's a telling image but not quite as dramatic as those taken in 1982 by Jay Watchhorn from City Rhythm Magazine. In his 2015 interview, former Air Force member Max Campbell told Noah that the GESA agenda in the '80s was a very simple one
NOAH RISEMAN: There was no other sort of agenda except just lay a wreath then commemorate?
MAX CAMPBELL: No, we were just to memorialise the obviously, unknown but gay men and women from all wars.
MEGAN SPENCER: A`nd here are some final reflections from Max at the end of Noah's interview.
MAX CAMPBELL: How would you like the Australian public to remember LGBTI people's history and their role in the Armed Forces?
MAX CAMPBELL: I would love them to receive and accept that every gay man or woman who has been in the services did contribute to the fullest and they should rightly take their place of honour directly with all the other members whether they're alive or dead. It's going slowly but there is a lot more acceptance and that now, but it's got a long way to go. But as I said, I would really love full and equal recognition of the gay and lesbians in the service.
VOICE ON SPEAKER: at the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them. We will remember them.
MEGAN SPENCER: Although GESA disbanded after 1984, their actions made very visible to the Australian public that LGBTI people did proudly serve and sacrifice and had always in the Australian Defence Force in spite of inflammatory rhetoric to the contrary.
MEGAN SPENCER: On the DEFGLIS website, the LGBTI history and defence page includes GESA'S 1982 wreath laying attempt at the start of a timeline around as Noah puts it, the assertion of LGBTI people in Australian Defence. Leading on to other historic key events such as members marching in uniform in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, Defence's recognition of same-sex couples, the formation of GForce, later DEFGLIS and up to present day. These days, ADF leaders now attend military pride balls and at one of them in 2017, in his speech, marking 25 years of open service, Australia's then Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow acknowledged GESA as an important precursor to DEFGLIS, the Defence LGBTI Information Service, as well Anita Van Der Meer's historic challenge to the ban on gay service. "Some of the qualities that unite members of the ADF are a love of this country and its values, a commitment to something bigger than yourself and a capacity to know and understand fear, but to not be diminished by it," he said in his speech, adding "those are precisely the quality's exemplified by those who over the last quarter century, have pushed to remove discriminatory restrictions from our military". In the face of resistance, these people stood strong, and they refused to be silent. It took courage. And as you'll hear, while things didn't change much at the time, Max Campbell and the GESA member's actions had far-reaching effects that can be still felt to this day. The annual rainbow wreath laying service on Anzac Day now being one of them.
NOAH RISEMAN: Definitely courageous, definitely brave, significant.
MEGAN SPENCER: Here's Noah Riseman again.
NOAH RISEMAN: I wish I could say it affected more change. To be honest, it didn't. Where I think it's important is long term. It's become an important moment in LGBTIQ history, in the history of defence, LGBTIQ people. And it's an important moment that the current service community has picked up on and the way they've done that is that starting in 2015, and starting with Max, DEFGLIS, which is in some ways, one of the successors to GESA, they represent primarily currently serving LGBTIQ members, but there are veterans in the group as well and families and allies. They started a tradition in 2015, on the centenary of the Gallipoli landings of laying rainbow wreaths on Anzac Day. They've done it in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane, a few years they did it in Townsville. They did it in Perth a few years ago, I think Adelaide may have done it, they do it where they can across the country and where they can get the support. But what was really wonderful was and 2015 the first year they did it, Max was the one who laid the wreath. And that was really an important moment of connecting the past and the present, the veterans and the currently serving people, and in many ways, righting a wrong that happened in 1982, 33 years earlier. And that I gotta tell you, that moment for Max was huge. I was there and Max. I mean, it wasn't in it happened after the interview. So it's not on record. But Max was so bloody proud to be able to do that 33 years later to see how much had changed and because this time they weren't just allowed or tolerated, like they were being welcomed at the Shrine to do this. And they still do it each year.
MEGAN SPENCER: How did you feel when you were watching this?
NOAH RISEMAN: I had a big smile on my face watching Max. Mind you, I was also snapping photos galore. It was a really rainy day. I remember that too because I was walking with Max under our umbrella. I had such a smile on my face watching Max do this.
MEGAN SPENCER: In 2015, when he was Victorian coordinator of DEFGLIS, former flight lieutenant Stuart Martin came up with the idea of the rainbow wreath in a phone conversation with then DEFGLIS President Squadron Leader Vince Chong.
STUART MARTIN: Vince and I were talking and we as a board have been talking about what else can we do to raise the profile of what DEFGLIS does in defence and how to support current serving personnel and ex-personnel and their families? (I said) 'Well, Vince, what did we do for Anzac Day?' and he said 'Oh we didn't do anything'. I said, 'Why don't we do something?' and he said 'Well. what do you think' and I said 'Well why don't we lay a wreath?' I said 'we could do a rainbow wreath. And that way we can lay that and show respect and regard to all those people who have gone before us and their families' to show that hey, you know, we're laying a wreath for these people, because we want to remove them, because then never remember, they're forgotten. They've been robbed out of history. And they, like anyone else who served has that right.
MEGAN SPECNER: And while it took a bit of organisation, this time there were no barriers with the Shrine. In fact, quite the opposite.
STUART MARTIN: I rang them and they said 'That's not a problem. You can come and leave a wreath. You can't do it as the main party, but lots of people bring wreaths and you can lay it on either side entrance, not a problem at all'. So I said to Vince 'Guess what? You got this, you got this, you got this, you've got it all'. I said 'Yep, we're going to do this.'
MEGAN SPENCER: Stuart recalls reading articles about Max Campbell and the GESA members wreath-laying attempts in the 80s, around the same time he was serving in the Air Force.
STUART MARTIN: Well I knew the story and I was thinking 'Okay, well, here's a way to just try and redress that imbalance and that injustice'. So I thought, 'Okay, this, this could work' and Vince said 'Okay. Give it a shot'.
MEGAN SPENCER: At the time, it was thought that Max was the last surviving member of GESA. So he immediately came to Stuart's mind as the perfect person for the wreath guard.
STUART MARTIN: And we invited Max to come and lay the wreath.
MEGAN SPENCER: That must have been a powerful moment
STUART MARTIN: He cried, I could see him crying. It was powerful in the sense that we'd been to the wrong service. So we waited till about must have been eight o'clock ish. So had all our friends who are gay are in the military in uniform. And I was amazed to see them, we had Army, Navy, Air Force. So when we went to lay the wreath, we got the guys to form a colour party. And Max was in the centre. They marched up, stopped, saluted. Max, put the wreath down, stopped, spent some time, at least 30 seconds, I think you could see him just thinking about this. And then stepping back, turn around and walking off and I could see the tears streaming down his eyes. He had achieved something he really wanted to and felt was really important in his lifetime. But he got to do that, while he was alive, and to do it in such a public way, reaffirmed who he was and the values he had. And he never, ever thought he get that opportunity. And Max was quite old by that stage. So it was a big thing for him to add it to that.
MEGAN SPENCER: And how about you? How was it for you? Do you remember how you felt?
STUART MARTIN: Immensely proud of the fact that we could do something that we thought we could never do, and that we managed to organise it in such a short turnaround. And the fact that the idea grew very quickly and was being done on other bases and other Anzac Day events in Brisbane and Sydney, Canberra and still being done today. So it's, it's our way for DEFGLIS to say we get to remember those who went before us who sacrificed their lives, those who served and were fortunate enough to survive physically, but maybe not so well mentally, but to also acknowledge our service as gay and lesbian people. No one said anything negative.
MEGAN SPENCER: So was it healing?
STUART MARTIN: I think for Max, it was really healing, because he got to remember his comrades, and he would have had relatives and family who fought in the Second World War and Max went to Vietnam. So for him, I could see the impact. For me, it was about affirmation. Realising that, here's, here's a place where you can be gay and lesbian, and it doesn't matter. It's a place where if you attend the Shrine, and you do it with respect and humility, but you can acknowledge and be acknowledged that you're here to pay respects. And that's, I think, really important.
NATHAN WHITE: DEFGLIS participates in Anzac Day because it's an important day for all Australians.
MEGAN SPENCER: As part of his recent National DEFGLIS presidency, Squadron Leader Nathan White coordinated three years worth of rainbow wreath ceremonies and attended multiple. It's a powerful moving service that's gone national. Here, Nathan shares some even deeper personal insights.
NATHAN WHITE: The history of the representation of the Anzac historically has, I suppose, idolised a vision of this, you know, bronze larrikin. But we know through history, and there's plenty of it, that the Anzacs actually represented a reflection of all Australians. And that meant that there were lots and lots of communities represented in the Anzac spirit. So, we sought to undertake a project which would recognise all who served, including those of diverse sex, sexuality and gender, many of whom served in silence. So the rainbow wreath project is about a vibrant, colourful display of the diversity of our Anzacs and all who have served throughout times of peace and war. It's grown incredibly over the past few years. The aim is that, over time, we will have representation in every capital city, and between five and 10 regional centres. We're really excited to be able to commemorate what we see is the 40th anniversary of - sorry, I'm getting a bit emotional. The 40th anniversary of the first wreath, which was laid at the Shrine of Remembrance - I'm sorry, I just, I'll take 30 seconds.
MEGAN SPENCER: Absolutely.
NATHAN WHITE: It's, um, you know, it's not sadness. It's a recognition of the challenges that past serving people have undertaken, and sacrificed to allow us to serve openly today, to be able to be our authentic selves and recognise their sacrifice, mostly in silence. It's really powerful. I'm so sorry.
MEGAN SPENCER: No, please don't be sorry. If I may just say, it is an act of courage. You know, it was an act of courage all those years ago, especially. And it still is an act of courage. Every single time, those wreaths are laid around the country, I feel, and it's something that I'm super grateful for, because I want my ADF to be open and honest, and reflect who's laying down their service and their potentially their lives for me, no matter who they are. So thank you, I want to say that to you and your organisation.
NATHAN WHITE: Thanks, Megan. And, you know, we spend so long you know, trying to learn from history, you know, we strengthen our planning, decision making and capability development, and it's an interesting lens in which we seek to learn from history, and that's the way in which we treat our people. And the rainbow wreaths is one aspect of an opportunity to learn from the way in which we recognised those who served and the full diversity of their experiences
MEGAN SPENCER: What would you like to see in the future or what might be the plans and goals for the rainbow wreath laying project in Australia?
NATHAN WHITE: That's a great question. So for the last five years, we've sought to grow the project, you know, we are competing against a vast array of organisations and their recognition but I see a future where the rainbow wreath project is something that is recognised by every Anzac Day service, you know, quite publicly. And so it's really, you know, DEFGLIS needs to enter into conversations and advocacy to get that over the line in each of the areas. We get a great response, particularly from the organisers and the RSLs and Community Councils, you know, they're really, really happy to have us, but now it's about spreading the message. And spreading the message means that, you know, we need to maybe amp up visibility. That will bring more people, you know, we really want to represent the community.
MEGAN SPENCER: And so final reflections now from Nathan.
NATHAN WHITE: I suppose, you know, this is a bit of a plug for DEFGLIS you know, that they are a group of volunteers that are incredibly passionate about supporting the community and the work they do is so important. It's so important for the reasons you said - it's about ensuring that defence reflects the society we serve. And DEFGLIS is a place that we, as a community, can come together and share our challenges, but also share our successes. You know, I as a, you know, openly gay Airforce pilot, I can honestly say that there is no barriers to my service that are created by my sexuality. I'm part of my unit's family, I'm part of the team. The sense of inclusion, I feel it's just not. It's a non-issue. Not it's not even don't ask, don't tell, I openly speak about my partner lovingly, my supervisor, the commanding officer, you know, includes him in squadron activities that involve families, that, you know, there's actually quite a number of gay and lesbian serving members in my unit. And we are just part of the team, you know, and so, you know, I have to recognise what DEFGLIS has done, to make the organisation a great place to serve for our community, which I benefit from, you know, I have obviously done, been involved in the team that continues to evolve defence policies and support and inclusion for the LGBTI community. But I have to recognise the incredible privilege I have to serve openly. And, you know, and reflecting on the sacrifices of those who have served before me, you know, I just, I say, thank you for your service. And my service and my life is stronger and easier for their sacrifices. And I hope to continue to reflect their sacrifice throughout the tenure of my service.
MEGAN SPENCER: Well, that kind of brings us full circle, just like a wreath, back to where we started today - Anzac Day 2022 at the Shrine of Remembrance, and the rainbow wreath-laying ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of GESA's first attempt.
LACHLAN SAUNDERS: Hi, I'm Flight Lieutenant Lachlan Saunders. I'm a 34-year-old officer in the Royal Australian Air Force. I'm currently posted to the Defence Aviation Safety Agency which essentially the organisation within defence that looks after the safety of our aircraft and people.
MEGAN SPENCER: Representing DEFGLIS, Flight Lieutenant Lachlan Saunders was one of three uniformed Air Force members in this year's wreath guard, alongside Group Captain Mick Jansen and Flight Lieutenant Daniel Bunting. After laying the wreath, Lachlan said a few words in the Sanctuary to the gathering of current and former service people, which also included Stuart Martin. Having just laid the wreath I was curious about how Lachlan felt,
LACHLAN SAUNDERS: Yes, there's always, I guess an element of pride putting on the uniform any day of the week, but in particular, on Anzac Day where we're remembering obviously all our veterans who were deployed, either in the past and now in particular, those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Today is a little bit special, particularly with the rainbow wreath representing our LGBTI veterans. I guess it's a bit of a bittersweet moment. To some extent we're recognising the service in particular ofsome of our LGBTI veterans, but we know their service hasn't necessarily been as well recognised in the past. So the ability to do that in uniform recognising primarily those LGBTI veterans as well as all veterans generally, you're certainly very proud to be able to do that.
MEGAN SPENCER: Do you feel like there is more support for LGBTQI veterans and defence serving personnel?
LACHLAN SAUNDERS: There definitely is it and certainly since lifting the ban, Defence has probably been one of the more progressive organisations in terms of the rights we have within defence and the entitlements we get within defence, are the same as any other serving member LGBTI, or not. Certainly, in my experience, I've only ever had positive experiences in defence. And I know there's challenges across all segments of the community, including within defence. But we have a whole bunch of proactive policies that are there to support defence veterans. And that's to encourage diversity across the board. As in, we've got to have the best team within defence. And the only way we do that is through having a diverse workforce. And, and there's lots of different ways in which defence supports us in that way.
MEGAN SPENCER: So what's been your experience personally, as an openly gay person serving in defence?
LACHLAN SAUNDERS: I'm incredibly lucky. So I've only had positive experiences. So when I joined defence, I wasn't out. But I wasn't out in the community either. So it was a case I wasn't ready to come out. So it wasn't that there wasn't necessary a supportive place. But when I did choose to come out, it was actually my Air Force friends, my Airforce colleagues that I came out to first. And it was a nice supportive place to do that. And certainly when I did come out to the greater workforce, looking after a maintenance team at the time within a big squadron, I've certainly never had any negative experiences. That said, I am a white male, six foot officer in the Air Force. So you know, my experiences aren't universal. There's definitely challenges out there that people have. And I certainly wouldn't want to take away from that. But certainly what I'm hoping through doing events like this, and through being more visible throughout defence is that it either makes it easier for people to serve more openly, or certainly encourage other people to, I guess support diversity within defence and within the community.
MEGAN SPENCER: It suddenly struck me while I was watching you lay the wreath that it's actually 30 years this year in 2022, that that ban was overturned. How does that make you feel?
LACHLAN SAUNDERS: Yeah, I guess it's bittersweet again, as in I'm quite proud of my service and the people I get to serve with and the diversity we have within the organisation within defence generally. I couldn't imagine not being able to serve as who I am. And it's, it's not necessarily a gay or otherwise, it's about being able to be who you are, and bring that to work and the place where we serve. So I guess it, it makes me wonder what it was like, pre the 90s. And pre lifting that ban in terms of people that either had to serve without being able to bring themselves to work and being able to serve who they are, people who are on the shores of Gallipoli or, you know, on the Western Front, who were asked to sacrifice and potentially make the ultimate sacrifice, but who weren't allowed to bring themselves to work. So yeah, it's important to recognise that.
MEGAN SPENCER: What do you think your forebears would say, to see the above happen, you know, those who have gone before you, you know, laying the rainbow wreath and under the roof of the Shrine, because it wasn't like that 30 years ago.
LACHLAN SAUNDERS: You know, I think there would be a lot of people that never saw this day coming. And certainly some of the people that have had been discharged as LGBTI members, you know, it was a dark time for them. But I think if they can see what's happening today, I think, hopefully just brings a little bit of hope for them. And for those that are discharged veterans or those that weren't able to serve openly, hopefully, the fact that we are laying a rainbow wreath and representing and recognising and commemorating their service is something that they take pride in. And hopefully they can, you know, tell their stories about what they did in defence and come forward and, and if they haven't been recognised for their service, and actually received the honours and awards that they may be entitled to.
MEGAN SPENCER: I just, I have this feeling I just want to say to you, today is a good day, it feels like a good day. And especially because the Anzac story just keeps getting bigger and bigger. And the Australian military service story gets bigger and bigger and bigger. Does that resonate with you?
LACHLAN SAUNDERS: Yeah, it certainly does. And obviously, is a solemn day recognising veterans' service and commemorating what has been achieved over our history and the sacrifice that people have made across our history. But as you say, the opportunity to shed light on a particular segment of our veteran community and our defence community is a great opportunity and while solemn it is certainly a great thing to be able to do.
MEGAN SPENCER: Thanks so much Lochie, It's been great talking to you.
LACHLAN SAUNDERS: Thank you.
MEGAN SPENCER: The symbol of the wreath has been a pretty powerful one in this story. The revered circle with no beginning and no end symbolising eternal life, and of course memory, especially on days of commemoration, like Anzac Day. Well, thankfully, sometimes life too comes full circle. With the passing of former Warrant Officer Max Campbell in 2018, it was thought that he was the last surviving member of GESA, the Gay Ex-Services Association. And while two names of the GESA five were known 'Teddy bear' Terry Yates and Mike Jarmin, it looked as if the names of the other three men from 1982 may well have been lost to the annals of time. Well, that is until now. By chance during the making of this podcast, another member of the five original ex-servicemen who climbed the steps of the Shrine that historic day four decades ago, has been identified and found alive and well in Victoria. His name is Phil Neil. So it's only fitting that the last word in this podcast goes to him.
PHIL NEIL: It was something, we just felt as if it wasn't just five guys walking up with a wreath, to the Shrine, to the most sacred place in Victoria, to do something that we felt was needed to be done then. And hopefully, some people may have listened, who was thinking about joining the services or worked currently in the services, and felt well, hey, we're not alone. There's other people out there who feel exactly the same as we feel
MEGAN SPENCER: Like his GESA comrades, Phil too was in the Air Force. He was born in 1953 and enlisted shortly before his 18th birthday, serving for three years between 1971 to 74. He rose to the rank of leading aircraftman and was posted in Australia. He's now approaching 70. I asked Phil, what his memories were of that day back in '82 and how he felt about it all beforehand,
MEGAN SPENCER: Probably a couple of hours beforehand, and we were, putting it basically, we were scared shitless. We didn't know how far, we didn't know whether we could go through with it. We didn't know how far we would get before we were maybe arrested, we really didn't know what to expect, all the way through, right up until, even the walk up to the Shrine itself. I don't think I've ever been so scared and intimidated in my life as I was that day. And we all said afterwards it was the most exhilarating experience. But it was the most frightening experience. Just to be to know we're maybe, we're helping somebody that was watching it, or maybe doing something maybe not doing anything at all. But at the end of it, we felt as if we achieved, we achieved what we were out to do. And that was just to lay a wreath for the gay and lesbian who had passed away during war. There's always been gay and lesbian people around forever. They've always been serving their country. They've always been proud of their country. And we wanted to show respect for those people.
MEGAN SPENCER: Phil, did you get a sense of that your family, your community, your LGBTQI family, as you were walking up the steps, did you have a sense that, you know, you were doing it for them? You could feel that?
PHIL NEIL: Yeah, I think we all I think we all felt as if when we going out there we kept on saying well this is not only for us, it's for others, it's for other people who - when I told my parents that I was doing it, they were shocked but they were proud that I was actually standing up for something that I believed in. And something that would help other people, and that I wasn't scared to say what I felt. There was a very, very, was a very strong feeling to all five of us that we needed to do something, we achieved something. And we felt as if there was other peopl, we felt as if there wasn't just the five of us walking, we felt that there was a whole group with us. They weren't there with us physically with us, but they were there with us thinking about us because we spoke to a lot of people beforehand, even non ADF who said go for it. Do what you feel you have to do. And that's what we did. I think '82, we're talking 40 years ago, if you did something like that now, nobody would even look. But if you did it 40 years ago, when it was still illegal to be to be gay or lesbian, you could still be put in jail or arrested and things like that. And to actually come out openly, and say, 'Hey, we're gay. We served in the forces. We have the same rights, as everybody else to be there, to be laying a wreath'. And we say, 'Well, we're here, if you don't like us, I'm sorry, but we're not going away'. And there'll be more people who will follow on from us. I did it because I had to, not because I wanted to. I had to
MEGAN SPENCER: So looking back at it, Phil, do you think that it did make a difference? Looking back at it now? 40 years on?
PHIL NEIL: Yes, I think it did make a difference. I think, I know it's 40 years on but I think people, whether it was the RSL or people in hierarchy in the ADF looked and said, 'Well, hey, these guys have got a point. There are people here, there are people serving the country'. You can't say that there aren't - that everybody in the world is exactly the same. Be a very boring world if they were. And I feel as if eell, that's, that may have planted a seed in somebody's mind, who is now part of maybe the new, you know, the new RSL, the younger people who are coming out through Vietnam and who've gone through. Yeah, people, these days have a bit more of an idea that the RSL are much younger, they're starting to realise, moving on with the time that people are individuals and are willing to serve and want to serve their country, doesn't matter what they do in their bedrooms.
MEGAN SPENCER: Do you think looking back, Phil, that that moment at the Shrine when you tried to lay that first wreath, that it has something to do with the lifting like it, it contributed towards the change that helped make the decision to lift the ban against LGBT service back in 1992?
PHIL NEIL: Deep down, I'm hoping so. I'm not saying that we had a huge thing to do with it, I think we might have had maybe a little very, very small seed that has grown to help towards what happened. I'm not trying to blow my own trumpet, but I think well, maybe we might have had just a little bit to do with it. If we did, I'm very, very proud of what we did. If we didn't, I'm still proud of what we did. For me, it was almost as life changing as marriage equality. I know, which is a huge thing to say. But back then when you're looking at people who are actually can then say 'Well, I can now openly serve my country, to the best of my ability and feel comfortable doing the job that I'm doing'. I might be leading 40 or 50 men who are then I can now say, 'Well, hey, this is me. I'm still the same person I was. And now I can be that person'. I'm very proud of what we did. I'm honoured to be involved in this podcast. Hopefully, this will achieve something. Hopefully people, or somebody will listen to it or somebody will get something out of it where they'll, if they are thinking about joining the ADF, go ahead and do it. If you're thinking about doing anything else that will serve your country. Go ahead and do it and feel proud of who you are while you're doing it.
MEGAN SPENCER: Former GESA member and leading aircraftman Phil Neil, and you can hear a longer version of this interview on the Shrine website. So where are we today? Well with the hard fought actions of people like Phil, Max, and of course many others who I haven't named here, as we've heard across time, things have eventually moved forward with the key players in this story. For the first time in his life, Phil has joined his local RSL feeling comfortable there now with the more inclusive culture that younger members are bringing with them. And in his keynote speech at the 2017 military pride ball, Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow recognised the lengths defence had gone to and I'm quoting him here 'in order to be an employer of choice for LGBTI people'. The ADF has a 2012 to 2017 diversity and inclusion strategy online. And since 2017, a formal policy has also been in the pipeline, something that the DEFGLIS board welcomes saying 'DEFGLIS is very excited to see that defence has made progress towards a policy landscape that works directly to include and empower all of our diverse members and looks forward to seeing this released soon'. Noah Riseman told me he'd like to see an official apology given to veterans for past policies and practices he said, and a Redress Scheme for people who were persecuted for their sexuality or gender identity in defence. He cited public apologies in countries such as Canada, Germany and the UK. And Stuart Martin echoed this idea. The Shrine too has recognised and owned the pain it caused from the incident in 1982. Defending with Pride, the exhibition this podcast is part of grew out of the memorial’s commitment to prioritise inclusivity in its services. Acknowledging the Shrine’s contribution to ‘maintaining a heteronormative view of Australia's military history’, in a recent article curator Kate Spinks says Defending with Pride offers the beginning of what's intended to be a new path for the Shrine and for the memorial’s relationship with the LGBTQI+ service community. Well, one thing is for sure, the landscape of our Defence personnel across the services is ever-changing and ever-evolving, as it is for ex-service organisations and our commemorative institutions. So, let's aspire to always remember well, and for now, I guess it's watch this space.
Defending with Pride is a podcast for the Shrine of Remembrance produced by me, Megan Spencer. Speaking today were Professor Noah Riseman, Stuart Martin, Nathan White, the late Max Campbell, Lachlan Saunders and Phil Neil. You also heard the voice of Mick Jansen. Huge thanks to each speaker for generously sharing their insights, research and lived experience. This programme could not have been made without the support of Noah Riseman, DEFGLIS or the Australian Queer Archives. Many thanks also to Nick Henderson, Graham Willett and Ang Bailey, the Department of Defence and Defence media, Nathan White and Racheal Cosgrove, the DEFGLIS and allies from Anzac Day 2022 rainbow wreath laying service at the Shrine, and of course to the Shrine team.
For the music thank you to Philip Brophy, Chris Latham, and the musicians from the Diggers Requiem, including the 62,000 bells with Chris Latham, Veronica Bailey and Thomas Lau. To Bunurong man Eric Edwards for his didgeridoo playing and also to the military bands who filled St Kilda Road with their amazing music on ANZAC Day. Sound mastering is by Chris Keogh.
If this interview raises any issues for you please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Open Arms 1800 001 046, or DLVA, the discharged LGBTI Veterans Association phone Yvonne or Danny on 0400 124 213 or visit the website dlvainfo.com. You can find out more about DEFGLIS at DEFGLIS.com.au and the Australian Queer Archives at queerarchives.org.au.
For the full list of credits, please visit the episode's show notes at shrine.org.au/resources. The opinions expressed in this podcast are those of individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Shrine of Remembrance. Visit the Defending with Pride: Stories of LGBTQ+ service exhibition at the Shrine and Remembrance open from August 1 2022 until August 2023. I'm Megan Spencer and thank you for listening.
NOAH RISEMAN: And with that, I'm gonna say thank you and then I'm gonna press stop.
Reviewed 02 August 2022