It is their grins that will distinguish them while marching, Navy captain Christine Clarke said just days before some 120 Defence members don their ceremonial garb for the first time at the Sydney Mardi Gras parade.
Clarke, who is straight and has marched since they were first allowed to in 2008, will be leading the Navy contingent of the uniformed Australian Defence Force (ADF) members, a role she said she was delighted and honoured to take on.
“Our uniform is part of our identity, it’s part of how we have been recognised throughout our time at the Royal Australian Navy,” she told the Star Observer.
“Many aspects of that uniform are quite traditional and there are many people in the community who recognise that uniform.
“In particular, the sailors who will be marching, their uniform is quite distinctive from the other two services and it sets them quite apart from everybody else; just as we have pride in diversity, we have pride in our uniforms.”
Clarke found that whenever ADF personnel were called on to wear their uniforms, a small but noticeable change happened.
“I always find that they are a few centimetres taller when they put on their ceremonial uniforms because suddenly that pride comes out and their chin goes up and their shoulders go back and stand a bit straighter.”
While Defence members prepare for their historical moment on Saturday to march in uniform in front of hundreds of thousands of spectators, recent news has tainted the ADF’s progress towards further LGBTI inclusion.
Two weeks ago, a Senate inquiry submission claimed the ADF did nothing to investigate or discipline a group of Defence members who started a gay-hate Facebook group.
The inquiry into the government’s response to abuse allegations within the ADF received a scathing submission from Lieutenant Colonel Paul Morgan, a psychologist with Defence Health who had received death threats.
Clarke said Morgan’s experience was “really unfortunate” and he was a very brave man to stand up.
“None of us can walk in his shoes to know exactly how he felt,” she said.
“The service chiefs and the chief of the Defence Force [General David Hurley] are absolutely applying every effort to address those types of situations should they occur but, more importantly, every effort to educate our people that that sort of behaviour is not acceptable and won’t be tolerated.
“No one is denying that it happened but what we want to do is make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
In his submission, Morgan said Defence had conducted a media campaign stating that the behaviour was unacceptable and the participants would be disciplined, although they were not.
Former soldier Marcus Andrew Georgiou set up the page and went as far as threatening via email to chop up Morgan into a hundred pieces. He avoided jail after he told the court he suffered from post traumatic stress disorder.