THE Australian Defence Force once again made its presence felt at this year’s Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, and for the first time ever, trans* personnel also marched.

With over a hundred members from the Australian Army, Royal Australian Air Force and the Royal Australian Navy taking part in the parade, alongside family and friends from the defence LGBTI information service DEFGLIS, the floats showcased how the Australian military has been embracing diversity.

During the parade, DEFGLIS chairman Squadron Leader Vince Chong told the Star Observer that there had been overwhelming support from both senior military commanders and ADFA cadets alike.

“One quarter of the defence force contingent are from the Australian Defence Force Academy, many of whom aren’t actually gay,” he said.

“They’re here to support their LGBTI mates and colleagues, and it’s a great thing to see the future generation of ADF leaders walking the talk, understanding what’s going on in the wider community in the defence force and embracing inclusion, right from the outset.”

Chong added that trans* members of the ADF marched within both the DEFGLIS and official service-arm floats on the night.

“We do have a number of transgender people who are a part of the floats”, he said.

Other ADF members also voiced their support for the LGBTI community during the parade, with Warrant Officer Stuart O’Brien telling Navy Daily that he felt it was important to set an example.

“When I think about why I personally march, it’s very simple — to show to the wider community how proud I am to serve in the Australian Defence Force,” he said.

“As a leader I feel it’s important to lead from the front and by stepping out, I show others that is okay to be themselves, to acknowledge who they are so they can perform to the best of their ability — without worrying about their sexual orientation, gender identity, or intersex status.”

Leading Seaman William Carroll, who carried the navy banner with his partner, said that marching in both the 2013 and 2014 held personal significance for him.

“Last year as we reached the end of the parade route, I saw three older gentlemen standing on the side of the road wearing their service medals and saluting the ADF contingent,” he said.

“As we marched past I could see tears in their eyes. It really shook me to see ex-servicemen so moved by how far we have come. It’s something I will never forget.”

The parade capped off a successful Mardi Gras season for the ADF, coming in the footsteps of two widely-acclaimed presentations by Lt Colonel Cate McGregor at Queer Thinking: Gender Trailblazers and Women Say Something, as well as her appearance on the ABC’s Australian Story less than a week before the Parade.

The ADF’s promotion of LGBTI equality and engagement was recently highlighted in a  study on LGBTI military inclusion, conducted by The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies in partnership with the Netherlands’ Ministry of Defence. Out of over 100 countries indexed, Australia ranked fifth behind New Zealand, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK.

(Image credit: Ann-Marie Calilhanna) 

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