ON the eve of Anzac Day, a ground breaking new project has been announced to highlight the contributions made by LGBTI people who have served in Australia’s army, navy and air force.

Spearheaded by the Defence Gay and Lesbian Information Service (DEFGLIS), the research project will focus on the experiences of gay men and women in the forces since World War II.

Speaking exclusively to the Star Observer, DEFGLIS president Vince Chong said the project began when it was discovered there was little information in the Defence Force archives about LGBTI people in the ranks.

“This research will be our contribution to recognising and documenting the sacrifices that LGBTI people have made in the defence of Australia,” said Chong.

“A lot of people don’t even know of Anita Van Der Meer who faced potential discharge for being a lesbian.

“She challenged that action with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission — a very courageous action considering she was only a very junior sailor.”

Calling her a “pioneer”, Chong said Van Der Meer was instrumental in the removal of the ban of gay and bisexual men and women openly serving in the forces in 1992.

Academics from the Australian Catholic University, University of Melbourne and Macquarie University will be aiding the research.

Chong said the project had already spoken to the founder of G-Force, the Defence Forces’s first LGBTI support organisation, which has “contributed new shocking material that reveals institutional bias and abuse in the years following the removal of the ban on homosexual behaviour.”

However, times had changed in the two decades since the bans was repealed, said Chong: “Defence culture has evolved substantially and continues to evolve for the better.

“DEFGLIS is focussed on helping (the Defence Force) achieve greater inclusion and fair-treatment — across the board — for LGBTI soldiers, sailors and airmen.”

A survey for the Australian Army Journal last year found that 59 per cent of LGBTI serve personnel in the forces were out and had suffered no ill will from colleagues, while 9 per cent saying they had experienced discrimination.

However, around a third of gay service personnel were still in the closet.

Chong said contributions, including newspaper clippings and photographs, were welcome from forces members’ past and present, while key figures would also be interviewed about their experiences.

The project aimed to come to fruition by November 2017 — the 25th anniversary of the ban’s repeal.

“We’ve lost so much of what has happened in the past few decades, but we have an opportunity while people are still alive to piece the story back together,” Chong said.

For more information, visit www.defglis.com.au.

(Main image source: Australian Defence Force)

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