THE Australian Defence Force (ADF) has announced a boost in support for LGBTI staff while one the country’s highest-ranking defence chiefs has said he is proud of the contribution LGBTI people have made to the country’s army, air force and navy.
Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, the vice chief of the ADF, launched the Defence Pride Network on Saturday at Australia’s first-ever military pride ball.
[showads ad=MREC]The event, held at the National Maritime Museum in Sydney, was the largest gathering of LGBTI service personnel since the ban on gay people serving in the armed forces was lifted in 1992.
Organised by the Defence LGBTI Information Service (DEFGLIS), the ball also saw honours given to two trailblazing trans* personnel.
Major General Gus Gillmore, the Commander of Forces Command who spoke on Griggs’ behalf, said he was committed to an ADF in which there was a culture of inclusion, not exclusion.
“I am proud of the contributions that LGBTI people make to defence and I am proud to be in an organisation that has a senior leadership so committed to inclusion and diversity,” Gillmore said.
He said the new network would aid collaboration between the organisation and its LGBTI workforce.
“Defence Pride will provide a network for all personnel who want to help create an inclusive culture and generate inclusive leadership,” he said.
The new group will operate in a similar fashion to ally networks in major companies by being open to both LGBTI people and straight allies.
An ADF spokesperson said the forces already had a number of women’s networks and a disability employment network in place and the new group would be based on those.
Squadron Leader and DEFGLIS president Vince Chong said the two organisations would work alongside each other but DEFGLIS’ membership would be broader than ADF personnel.
DEFGLIS will provide Defence Pride with news and information for the ADF LGBTI community, forums for current and past staff and families to network, and advise the Department of Defence on matters that affect LGBTI personnel.
Chong said Saturday’s ball was a milestone on the ADF’s journey of acceptance of LGBTI staff.
“The defence organisation over the past 20 years has moved from conducting witch hunts to ferret out ‘the gays’ to encouraging a culture of respect and inclusion,” he said.
“Tonight is a celebration of where we are now, and how defence is evolving.”
Chong said one of the biggest areas of progress was the increasing level of support and acceptance of trans* people who have been allowed to serve since 2010.
Major Donna Harding and Squadron Leader Cate Humphries both received awards on the night for their role in supporting fellow trans* staff.
“It is an honour to be recognised for helping support our members who are dealing with their gender identity and considering or going through transition,” Humphries said.
“I hope that the peer network that has grown will continue to provide that support to everyone that needs it into the future, and I will certainly continue to play my small part where ever I can.”
Chong said: “Three to five years ago there as an assumption was that transgender people should just.. be invisible. That is no longer the case but we still have work to do.”
DEFGLIS founder, Warrant Officer Stuart O’Brien, was also honoured for his contribution to LGBTI inclusion in the forces.