- Army, Air Force, Navy
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 1 of a two-part podcast. To listen to Part 2 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
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
MEGAN SPENCER: 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.
Welcome to this podcast exploring all facets of our wartime history. The Shrine of Remembrance acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the traditional custodians of the land on which we honour Australian service people, and we pay our respects to elder's past, present and emerging. Hello, my name is Megan Spencer, and this is Defending with Pride, a podcast that explores the stories of LGBTQI+ military service in the Australian Defence Force with a Victorian focus. And this is part one of a two-part episode. It's Anzac Day 2022 and I'm at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne on Bunurong country. And today, it's a big one. A record number of people turn out to be part of the dawn service. 50,000 of us in fact.
PETER MEEHAN: Good morning. Welcome to the Shrine of Remembrance, after a couple of years, interrupted by the COVID situation that we have all faced. Once again, we assemble. Thank you, thank you for joining us, as we remember them at first light as one.
MEGAN SPENCER: It's the first Anzac Day that's been properly open to the public since the start of the COVID 19 pandemic in 2020. And it's also the biggest dawn service since 2017, during the centenary of Anzac. Even though it's dark here right now, there are people as far as the eye can see. And as we stand here together quietly in the chilly pre-dawn, we're all of us grateful to be here again, in person and in situ, to reconnect with the enduring purpose of this 88-year-old memorial, which was intentionally set up as a place of commemoration for all Australians who served and sacrificed in times of war and peace, no matter who they are. It's unconditional. We take this as a given.
As we come together on the lands of the Bunurong, I'd like to add, the Shrine of Remembrance is held in care by the Shrine Trustees on behalf of all Victorians. We recognise and embrace the diversity of our community and acknowledge the Bunurong people of the Kulin nation as the traditional custodians of the land on which we honour Australian servicemen and women.
The atmosphere here is quiet, sombre, but electric and it feels very special.
There's another reason this Anzac Day in particular is very special. Today marks the 40th anniversary since five veterans members of GESA, the Gay Ex-Services Association, attempted to lay a wreath at the Shrine of Remembrance during the allocated public wreath laying time only to be unceremoniously, rudely turned away by then RSL President Bruce Ruxton, a Shrine commissionaire and police, who all met them at the door. It was a wet and cold Sunday the 25th of April Anzac Day 1982. And it would be 10 years before the ban on gay and lesbian service people in the Australian Defence Force was lifted. Representing the three services, the GESA members were there to honour and recognise the service and sacrifice of gay and lesbian service members who had died in war. Captured on camera, their wreath-laying attempt, for which they had received permission, made the papers and caused a stir that rippled across the country. It was an awful and dark moment in the Shrine's history, and one that it's not proud of. The wreath wound up in the bin.
So back to today, Monday the 25th of April 2022. It's just after 8am now and around 10 current and former ADF service people gather near the entrance of the Shrine's Visitors Centre. They're members of the Victorian branch of DEFGLIS - the defence lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Information Service. One uniformed member carries a wreath that reflects the colours of the rainbow. Shrine staff warmly meet and greet them and welcome them inside. This year, like last, DEFGLIS members are invited to lay their rainbow wreath upstairs in the Sanctuary. DEFGLIS has been laying rainbow reaths at the Shrine since 2015. The wreath's vibrant colours represent the rich diversity of Australian service people, and loudly and proudly disrupts the previous history of LGBTQI+ defence service, which prior to 1992, necessitated invisibility and silence, lest you get found out then thrown out.
The rainbow wreath ceremony is brief, and it's beautiful. It's filmed and a press release is put out by the Shrine, acknowledging its past role and the pain that it caused the LGBTQI+ defence members and community and to celebrate this moment of renewal, this moment of support, inclusion and allyship.
MARK JENSEN: It's significant we've got the support of the Shrine to be able to do this. It was 40 years ago that we didn't have the support. I think it's a great sign of not just how much our defence force has change, but the Shrine and all the support networks that are around us, they have come a really long way to a point when we were not just stopped, but physically manhandled out of the way to prevent laying a wreath, which there's a lot of history to that. But the fact that we can now come here as invited guests and do it in this very important and sacred space is a really big moment. So we certainly appreciate the effort to Shrine to allow us to do it.
MEGAN SPENCER: Lest we forget. And I have to share with you that I feel pretty privileged to be able to witness this historic moment of remembrance 40 years in the making. And I also feel very moved. But I soldier on and settle into recording and weaving together the voices of those who today will explore this extraordinary Australian story of courage, patience, military service and sacrifice, one which continues to this day and beyond.
NATHAN WHITE: Participating in a rainbow wreath ceremony is an incredible feeling. And for me, the sense of pride is twofold; I get to stand and commemorate service and sacrifice, showing two parts of my identity that are really important to me. The first is me as an officer of the Royal Australian Air Force. The second is me as an openly gay man who is accepted, included and celebrated in my service. The fact that I can put those two together really openly and demonstrate the service and sacrifice and commemorate it, and you know, and on behalf of the community as well, there are some members of the community that wouldn't feel comfortable doing that, being able to be a visible role model and do that on their behalf. Do that for the, you know, the vast history of LGBTI members who have served and weren't able to undertake these types of programmes or do so visibly, well, that's the real power of participation is the ability to represent not just the duality of yourself and your service identity, but also to do it on behalf of the community. That's the pride, that makes me very proud.
MEGAN SPENCER: That's the voice of Squadron Leader Nathan White from the Royal Australian Air Force, a pilot by background and the recent past president of the DEFGLIS Association, and we'll hear from Nathan again, a little bit later on.
NOAH RISEMAN: No one was talking about this. Like this was about learning about wrongs that were done in the past, telling those stories, sharing those stories of those wrongs. And some of what I'm working on now is now also trying to right those wrongs, because I do have a passion for social justice. And this is part of that I suppose you could say.
But first, I'd like to introduce you to academic, author and researcher Noah Riseman.
NOAH RISEMAN: Sure. My name is Noah Riseman. I'm a professor of history at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne. From about 2014 till 2020, I was doing a very big research project on the history of LGBTIQ people in the Australian Defence Force, looking at the changing policies, practices, and of course, lived experiences of LGBTIQ service members. Out of that project, we produced quite a bit, two books, one of them, which is called Pride in Defence, which is sort of your, your really good narrative overview of this is that history. And a second book called Serving in Silence where we took 14 of the people we interviewed for the project and tried to sort of reconstruct the history through biography. So each chapter is a different person's life story and how defence affected them. And also, in turn, you can see how defence changed over time. And we also put together a small exhibition also called Serving in Silence, which was done in conjunction with the Australian Queer Archives and several local partners. And it's been a fantastic experience meeting some amazing people super generous to share their life stories to be really open about what happened to them both the good and the bad, I should say, I think sometimes we might emphasise the bad a bit more, but there was good as well. In the end, the project as a whole, we interviewed 140 people. I probably did about 100 of those interviews.
MEGAN SPENCER: Serving in Silence and Pride in Defence are quite amazing books. Noah worked with colleague Shirleene Robinson on both of them. And also Graham Willett on Serving in Silence with the 2018 exhibition of the same name, touring regionally and interstate.
NOAH RISEMAN: I mean, I am an outsider as a non defence person, but I've got to say the veterans and the service members really welcomed me in and they welcomed Shirleene as well like they really welcomed us and were so generous.
MEGAN SPENCER: While they work primarily focuses on LGBTI service since 1945, as Noah told me, other researchers, such as Yorick Smaal, Ruth Ford and Peter Stanley have also written about homosexual service in World War Two and as far back as World War One. TNaheir collective work acknowledges and supports the unsurprising fact that there's always been a presence of LGBTQI service people in Australia's Defence Forces. So Noah, if you were a queer person serving in the Australian Defence Forces prior to 1992, what might happen to you if your identity was found out? And what did people have to do to remain in the Defence Force if they were part of the LGBTQI community?
NOAH RISEMAN: Well, I'll answer your question focusing especially on the period 1974 to '92. Because one thing our research found was the experiences were a bit different depending when they served, but that was really the period of the heightened ban, witch hunt, as they were called at the time, regardless of whether you're gay, lesbian, or bisexual. And actually, I would say a lot of what I'm about to describe did affect transgender people as well, even though they weren't the same and the rules were a bit different. You had to keep it a secret, you had to keep it a secret because if there was even an inkling that you were gay, lesbian, bisexual, you would come under investigation. Now how people kept this a secret varied from person to person. One thing that came across in a lot of our interviews was that officers tended to have it a little bit easier. I emphasise a little bit because they still had to suffer the stress of very much leading a double life. So they might, you know, have a gay circle of friends, and then they'd have their work circle of friends. If they were going to gay bars, they were at risk, both gay men and lesbian women of undercover service police infiltrating the bars. They had to be very careful of who if anyone they told and I have to save the majority of people we interviewed didn't tell anyone in the services except other people who they knew were gay or lesbian. Otherwise, it was just too risky of whether or not to trust someone or not.
In a journal article that he wrote for Australian Historical Studies in 2017, Noah states that military regulations barred gay, lesbian and bisexual defence members from open service until 1992. The ADF instruction from the time stating that homosexual behaviour is not accepted or condoned in the defence force with defence policymaking adequate provision for the discharge of members who engage in homosexual activities.
If someone was suspected under the policy, what happened was, anyone suspected of being gay or lesbian was reported immediately to the service police. And it was the job of the service police to investigate. On paper, there were restrictions on what the service police could and couldn't do. In practice the service police had carte blanche. So service police would surveil outside people's houses. Service police, as I mentioned, would go undercover in clubs. Service police would sometimes secretly interview friends, so interview people in their life, but make it clear to them they couldn't share that it was happening. And eventually, when service police thought they had enough of a case, they would then summon the person in for an interview. And one thing that came across in a lot of the oral history interviews we did was that these interviews were really more like interrogations, they were quite harrowing. They could go on for hours on end, where you know, you had a bit of good cop, bad cop sometimes. They would be pressuring and pressuring the person to admit that they were gay or lesbian. In at least one instance, you know, they showed the the photos taken that they had done undercover. That was when some of these points about surveillance came out. Some of the lucky people we interviewed were able to continue to resist and insist that they were not gay or lesbian didn't crack, and it turned out the service police didn't have enough hard evidence and they managed to survive their careers intact. Many others didn't. And more often than not, they cracked and admitted to being gay or lesbian. The interviews didn't end then though. They were asked really intimate graphic, I'd say inappropriate, questions about their sex lives. And I've seen some of the interview transcripts where they're, you know, they're asking, I don't know how graphic I can get in this interview...
MEGAN SPENCER: Go for it...
NOAH RISEMAN: Go for it. But you know, ask them what sexual positions they liked, whether they enjoyed oral sex, anal sex, if they masturbated to women, if they masturbated to men, all that sort of stuff was being asked in these interviews. Even though the rules on paper said you weren't allowed to ask these sorts of questions. We've seen it in the transcripts, they asked these questions. But the other big thing that they would continue to press for was to name names, they really wanted you to name names. And that's why these were called witch hunts was because some people did and that was also part of how the surveillance might start or how someone was suspected with someone else naming them. And after this long process, under the policy, they had a choice, I use the word choice loosely. Either they could request their own discharge administratively, in which case it would still be on paper as an honourable discharge, or they would get a dishonourable discharge, service is no longer required. The vast majority of people chose the former. But even if on paper, it was honourable, this devastated people's lives. It was unexpected, people were just cut loose from the defence force without any support without any, you know, transition. Several of them suffered mental health challenges from that. We know that many people attempted or completed suicide as a result of this. Often these people weren't out to their families, so then they had to make up an excuse as to why they suddenly left the defence force so that explanation, didn't necessarily have another career or trade available and had to sort of start from scratch, if you will. So this was the devastation that this policy wrought on people up until '92. And again, that's really the period '74 to '92, especially that that's really across the board, men, women, gay, lesbian, bisexual, all the services.
MEGAN SPENCER: Australia wasn't alone. As Noah told me the ADF's ban, practices and policies with regards to LGBT service members, especially in the 80s was comparable to that of other Western allies like the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, whether by coincidence or otherwise, we may never know. But as I listened to Noah speak, the big question that keeps coming up for me is why? Why exactly were people have diverse sex, sexuality and gender so much of a threat? What exactly was the problem?
MEGAN SPENCER TO NOAH: How was this such a threat to the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, given that these people had enlisted and done their training and were serving?
NOAH RISEMAN: So you had the official reasons, and then you had the, let's call it, the real reasons. The official reason that the military gave, the Defence Force consistently gave, across the 25 years of this policy and before that, as well, when there were different policies consistently, they gave the same reasons. First, they said was morale. They said allowing gay and lesbian people to serve would hurt troop morale, and that would hurt effectiveness. People wouldn't tolerate them, you know, gay guy in the bunker or the shower all that that ridiculous argument, that was reason number one they used to give. Reason number two they used to give was blackmail, the threat of blackmail, allowing gay and lesbian people in, you know, Soviets or whoever could blackmail them. Although, as people pointed out, if this weren't illegal, and you allowed them in, then they couldn't be subject to blackmail, they're only subject to that because you've made it illegal. The third reason often given was threat to minors. Because there were at that time, apprenticeship schemes and a few other schemes where there were some people under the age of 18 in the ADF. Well, that just played on false stereotypes about gay men being sexual predators, which is rubbish. But that was the third reason given. In the early years of that ban in the late 70s, the fourth reason given was they said it would hurt recruitment. And then from 85 onwards, when there was a sort of an update to the ban, the new fourth official justification given was health. And that was really an allusion to HIV and AIDS where it was, you know, assumed that gay men were all carriers of HIV and AIDS. Those were the official reasons given but I mean, look, it was blatant homophobia. Like, I mean, that's what it was and and like, yeah, the ADF was a homophobic institution then but we do have to remember all of Australian society was homophobic then I think. I think sometimes we look back at the the 70s was a time of change it was when we begin to see gay rights activism in Australia, but Australia was not accepting of gay and lesbian people in the 70s, the 80s, even the 90s in most states and territories don't even decriminalise homosexuality until the 80s, some into the 90s. So it's a reflection of broader Australian society's homophobia, but that's really what drove it. Those were just the justifications given, but if you you know, dig into those justifications, those are all homophobic as well.
MEGAN SPENCER: Well, someone who has lived experience of serving prior to the 1992 ban being lifted is Stuart Martin, a former flight lieutenant with the Royal Australian Air Force.
STUART MARTIN: Okay, my name is Stuart Martin
MEGAN SPENCER: Stuart served from 1983 to 1989 in the Air Force, training in the Medical Corps as a nurse. He served predominantly at RAAF base Laverton, and at RAAF base, Amberley in Queensland. We meet on a sunny day in his backyard and sit next to a beautiful big magnolia tree. So Stuart, could you tell me what it was like before 1992 and give us a bit of an idea of what your experience was like as a gay man serving in the RAAF prior to that time?
STUART MARTIN: I suppose I knew I was gay before I joined the military. I can remember my Airforce medical in recruiting. I had this very old doctor who I'm sure is long dead by now, making silly gay quips when he was examining me to see if I had any hernias. And I just laughed them off, but I'm sure that's what they did. But no one actually directly ever said to me, 'You know you can't be gay in the military. Are you gay?' No one ever asked that question. Which is, you know, when you when you think, 'Okay, well, we have to stop people from being gay in the military' Well, when do you ask that question? Surely you should be asking at the start. But no one did.
MEGAN SPENCER: At 21, Stuart had come from WA, and in his words, at that time, he didn't have time to be gay. So busy was he learning to be a nurse playing lots of sport, and training and living on base at Laverton. Laverton was also a long way from town. So there wasn't a lot of time or opportunity for him to be social.
STUART MARTIN: So, you know, circumstances weren't there. It was there, but it wasn't an issue for me. But I knew that you had to be careful. Had be very careful about who you associated with and what you talked about.
MEGAN SPENCER: And why did you have to be careful what could happen to you someone you know, clocked on you and said you are gay?
STUART MARTIN: Well, firstly, if they clocked on to you, you weren't sure what their response would be. There are plenty of cases that people would go talk to the service police and say, oh, you know, so and so's gay. And that could be enough for them to start investigating. So basically, what would happen is an allegation would be levelled. And we're not talking about procedural fairness or even justice. It was an allegation levelled often the service police would interview you. They'd interrogate is the word I should use, not interview. You're never given legal advice. You're not getting a lawyer, you're pressured. And they usually say things like, 'Well, if you tell us who you are, we'll go easy on you'. And so they're just trying to find who else was gay. And invariably the person was discharged within one or two days. Sometimes, you know, it was before my time was a dishonourable discharge. And otherwise, it's just a discharge. But if you can imagine someone whose whole life was about wanting to be in the military and they really enjoyed it and they were good at it. And then to have that world turned upside down, and suddenly find yourself outside without a job and identity, particularly, because the military is about your whole identity is you're in the military, and this is what your rank is and this is what you do. To lose all those things in the space of a couple of days, but then to have to go home, and more importantly, your parents don't know you're gay and your family don't know you're gay. And you have no other friends. So you're suddenly just your whole life's been ripped away, so that it's a major traumatic event for most people.
MEGAN SPENCER: Stuart served in the 1980s, when homophobia was at an all time high. It was the era of HIV AIDS.
STUART MARTIN: And I think the military police have changed their focus somewhat, from just gay witch hunts to find gay people, and then they used to go to gay nightclubs and try and spot some because we all had short haircuts, it's easy to tell. And short haircuts weren't the norm, the haircuts were very different in the 80s, lots of perms and big hair. Yep. So they'd do those things. So they changed their focus somewhat from that to trying to hunt down anyone who's HIV positive, and then their network of friends. So, you know, you might have been a friend of somebody who's HIV positive, you might happen to be gay. But even if you weren't, you were hauled in for an investigation, which is traumatic as it is, so sort ofthose things happened. So I did have some friends who weren't military who one of them wanted to stay over one night, and I didn't think there was anything wrong with it, he was entitled to be on the base. And I can remember, the service police came to our room and said 'Have you got someone here?', and I said, 'Yes, I've got a friend'. 'Well, you know you're not allowed to be here. It's after 11 o'clock'. I said 'what do you mean? He can stay here as long as he likes'.'No he can't', so they escorted him off the base. And I was called to the military police station, and was interrogated, about having a male friend in my room. There's nothing sexual going on at all, we were just really good friends, spending time together, in where I lived, so I was just mortified by that. It was just I haven't done anything wrong, but he just spending time with a friend. So that sort of really raised some alarm bells. For me personally, at the same time.
MEGAN SPENCER: After this incident, Stuart found out that he was being investigated. While he loved his job and defence life, after six years, Stuart decided to leave the Air Force. A few things contributed to his decision, not least of which though, was the then ban on LGBT defence service. The risk was just too high.
STUART MARTIN: But I knew what I was seeing around me. And I knew, well, I didn't think that defence was going to change at all, I just didn't see it. And no one really saw the government stepping and changing either. That was a bolt out of the blue. But I was prepared to leave because I wanted to do other things. And I didn't see much value in staying.
MEGAN SPENCER: Part of that would have been you being able to live your life openly?
STUART MARTIN: The opportunity to have a partner to live, because over time, I'd also stopped spending so much time on the base, I had lots of civilian friends by then as well. I do think about if I'd stayed, if the organisation was more open, I would have stayed, you know, and I would still be in the military. So you're talking about a 40-year service. Because it did have really interesting things you can do. And in that respect, it was a really interesting job, but also, professionally, it was rewarding. We were expected to do more than the average nurse would do outside. So you know, we got to do medivacs and being in our helicopters and do lots of exciting interesting things that most people in their life would never even dream of doing, let alone getting close to a helicopter. Here we are, we're being winched in and out of them, jumping out of them and flying everywhere. And we had great responsibility. And you know, I enjoy that. And I felt that it was valued. So in sense of loslosts opportunity, it's something I think about very carefully and often wonder what would have been or what could have been. I don't regret it. But would I have made a different decision if that change occurred earlier than '92? Most probably, but I made that choice. Many, many people didn't get that choice.
MEGAN SPENCER: Stuart left the Air Force three years before the Australian Government abolished the ban on LGB defence service. The government's decision at that time seemed to take everybody by surprise. After a long debate that involved the Commonwealth Government of the day, the ADF and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, the then Keating government overturned the ban on gay lesbian and bisexual service in the Australian Defence Force on the 23rd of November 1992.
Prime Minister Paul Keating stated at that time, this was to and I'm quoting here, 'reflect community support for the removal of employment discrimination, also bringing the ADF into line with tolerant attitudes of Australians generally'.
After being reported for being in a same sex relationship, Anita Van Der Meer, a lesbian junior naval officer had brought a complaint to the Commission against her dismissal, triggering the debate and the ultimate lifting of the ban.
The ADF policy on transgender service, which effectively banned transgender personnel from serving, was not lifted until 18 years later in 2010. And this decision also involved the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Here's Stuart again on the lifting of the 1992 ban
STUART MARTIN: The decisions made by the Keating government, there was a lot of argument in cabinet about that. Robert Ray, the defence minister, was firmly against removing the ban. So the decision was made in cabinet. It wasn't a decision supported by the ADF for a long time. Yes, it was changed. But that didn't change much in those first years since the ban was removed. You know, I knew people who were posted away from their partners, but didn't get the same benefits that heterosexual couples got. There were gay people who didn't get the same housing benefits, they weren't treated the same. It took generational change in the ADF for them to firstly, acknowledge and enact that change in a meaningful way that actually had changed that level of discrimination. Yes, as you can understand, there was an educative process had to occur. I can understand ADF leadership being upset by it, but they are beholden to Australian society and to Parliament. They serve the people. And if the government of the day makes a lawful decision to change it, they should enact that straightaway. So yes, there was joy when it occurred. But it wasn't joy that was felt immediately in your life. You were still constrained, you were still discriminated against for large periods of time.
MEGAN SPENCER: So that's one thing changing a policy. And it's another thing changing a culture. And you're on the record in another interview I've heard with you saying it took at least 10 to 15 years for that culture to change after that ban was overturned in 92. So what did that mean for people? Did they still have to hide their identity?
STUART MARTIN: So it was a long, long process that depended on who your commanding officers were. If you're a private in the army, it was gonna be tough because the people who were the gatekeepers ofthat behavioural changes were the senior NCOs and the captains and the majors and the lieutenant colonels. And as I said earlier, generational change takes generations to occur. So it involved changing leadership, involved younger people joining the military who had the same values that we see in society now. And I think that's a big thing that the ADF has, to its credit, affected in the change and that is it's realised that it can't be a service that can live in a cocoon. It has to look and find the best person for the job. And it has to be blind to gender, sexuality, religion, ethnicity, all those things. Because it's, it's competing against all the other aspects of society for jobs and people. And it needs the best people. You spend millions of dollars trying to sort of be a fighter pilot, you shouldn't be saying, 'Oh, we'll take the third best pick', we need to take the best person we can get. So that's the generational change that occurred. And that's led that change in how the ADF presents itself in society now. But as I said that 10 to 15-year period was a long period.
MEGAN SPENCER: As Stuart speaks, I can't help but reflect on what it's like for people to not be able to be their true, real authentic selves in the workplace, especially in a high-performance environment such as the ADF, where so much is at stake. So I'm going to bring in here Squadron Leader Nathan White, who you heard before. Nathan's 34, a current serving member of the Royal Australian Air Force, he's executive officer to number 34 Squadron, which produces in his words, VIP capability for PM and Cabinet Government and senior leadership of defence. Nathan's also a member of and recent past president of DEFGLIS.
What kind of an effect do you think it has on LGBTQI plus defence members if they can't be themselves authentically in their workplace? What does it do to their work performance?
NATHAN WHITE: So we talked about the idea of, you know, bringing the best talent, right, but the ADF and the defence organisation as a whole is, is a group of teams, right. And so, team performance relies on firstly, a diverse array of perspectives that people feel encouraged and supported to raise during, you know, planning and execution of a mission. But it could be said for any task, when you're developing the plan, you need to have all of the best ideas put forward, so that they can compete against one another, and the best plan survives. Now, if there's not a diverse array of perspectives well, there's no competition, and so you're never going to have the opportunity to test the plan against alternate views. So having diversity is, you know, getting an invite to the party, right an invite to the team. But feeling included is the part where people feel psychologically safe to contribute, they can put forward their ideas without feeling like they will be shut down, ostracised, not listened to. So when they're a valued member of the team, and they feel that psychological safety to contribute, well, that's, that's the power of authenticity. Because when you're your authentic self, you're able to draw on every part of your identity, and input that into the plan, and input that into this contest of ideas, right, the way in which we engage with our region, the way in which we plan to keep Australians safe. It's not simple, you know, it's incredibly complex, and it and there's five different domains in which we're progressing plans in parallel, you know, the air, and the land and the maritime and the space and the cyber domains are incredibly diverse and complex. So our ability as a country to engage with our region really relies on our ability to enter into those environments from a position of respect. You know, seeing these nations and these partners strategic partners as as different is one thing, but being able to engage respectfully in conversation, dialogue, partnerships, you know, when they have such a rich cultural tapestry, well, you know, our ability to do that it starts at home, right? Our ability to bring our teams together, is that first step to us being able to engage in our region. So allowing people to feel like they are their authentic selves, is an outcome. The outcome comes from everyone treating each other with respect. That's how you get authenticity. And that's how you get high performing teams.
MEGAN SPENCER: In November this year 2022, it will be the 30th anniversary of the lifting of the LGB defence ban. Stuart acknowledges that the ADF has come a long way since 1992.
STUART MARTIN: I think I talked about earlier about the rationale of understanding how we engage the best people we can to do the jobs you want in military. And it's about acknowledging that. So they changed those ridiculous standards on what women could or couldn't do in the military. Now, women can do any job in the military, whatever it is, they can be a frontline soldier in the platoon, they can be a fighter pilot, whatever the job, if you can meet the physical requirements of a job, you can do it. You can be gay, you know, when I served, there were hardly any Asian people in the ADF, hardly any Aboriginal people in the ADF. They were just not there, invisible. But they were members of our society. Now, when you go to the ADF, and go on a base, you'll see Asians, you'll see Indians, you'll see Aboriginals, and they're celebrated and encouraged and supported. So they can be the best they can in their service. So the ADF has taken that on board and said that, okay, well, we need to address those things that are barriers to people, allowing you and enabling you to be the best you are by not having to hide who you are.
MEGAN SPENCER: But there are still people grappling with discrimination and not being treated very well because of their sexual identity in the ADF now, aren't there?
STUART MARTIN: But now there is a very public open support. There are people in the military whose job it is to provide support to gay and lesbian personnel and bisexual person or transgender personnel, and commanding officers and NCOs are trained Iin how to handle those conversations and support the troops. But there's this independent group called DEFGLIS, who's there and has their back all the time has made a big difference as well. So yes, there always needs to be checks and balances and sometimes you need to rebalance things and people need to step in. But now when things go awry, we find that the defence says 'Oi! that's not appropriate. Stop that'. So here's the military living those values. And that's the difference. It's one thing to have to take on a change. And that's what happened in 92, we were forced to do something, and another thing to believe and live and practice those values.
But yeah, it's about acknowledging and giving people back their identity, and to saying to the rest of society, 'Hey, it's okay to be gay. It's okay to be gay in the military'. Here's this, what everyone thinks is ultra-conservative organisation, which nowadays is not. It is, I think, one of the forbearers of how you treat and support people who may be different from the norm in society, as well as anyone else. Gay and lesbian people make up a small percentage of society. But the military do a really good job of removing and combating those isms that affect people in life, you know, addressing racism, sexuality, misogyny, those things they are really good at. And they got that because people can say, 'Hey, I can be in the ADF. I can be open and proud. And that's welcome and encouraged.
MEGAN SPENCER: All of this really reminds us that it took the work of so many to create this culture and policy change around LGBTQI service in our military.
In the 2010s, after he left the Defence Force, Stuart became the Victorian coordinator for DEFGLIS, which he tells me is the longest running LGBTI support service for current and serving ADF personnel and their families. Since its inception in 2002, DEFGLIS has done much to affect real culture change in the ADF and also in the broader community, as well as providing support and advocacy for its serving members. Before DEFGLIS and earlier advocacy organisation G force, others were also agitating for change, including the five members of GESA who walked up to the Shrine that ill-fated Anzac Day in 1982, holding a wreath in their hands, and their gay and lesbian service brothers and sisters in their hearts. Though they didn't know it, historically, it was a watershed moment.
That's the end of Part One of Defending with Pride the Power of the Wreath, a podcast production for the Shrine of Remembrance produced and narrated by me, Megan Spencer. You heard speaking in part one Squadron Leader Nathan White, Professor Noah Riseman and former flight lieutenant Stuart Martin. Thank you to Bunurong man Eric Edwards for sharing his didgeridoo recording from the 2022 Victorian Aboriginal Remembrance Service. The music is by Philip Brophy also Chris Latham and the musicians of the Diggers Requiem. Sound mastering by Chris Keogh. Grateful thanks to everyone involved in part one. Please visit this episode's show notes on the Shrine's website for the full credits. Next time in part two, you'll hear from one of the original architects on the GESA 1982 wreath-laying event, more about the groundbreaking rainbow wreath laying services of today and an amazing surprise discovery that brings this story full circle. I'm Megan Spencer. Please join me now for part two. Listen at shrine.org.au or on your favourite podcast platform.
Reviewed 02 August 2022