Australia’s chief of defence said he is proud of the progress made in the defence forces since the ban on gay and lesbian soldiers was lifted 20 years ago this week.

Saturday, November 24 marks the 20th anniversary since the Keating Labor government removed the ban on gay and lesbian soldiers serving in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) in 1992.

Since then, significant milestones have been made for LGBTI soldiers including family benefits extended to same-sex partners in 2005 and the first Mardi Gras march for ADF personnel in 2008.

“Diversity is an asset and I am proud of the changes which have occurred within the Australian Defence Force over the past 20 years,” Defence Force chief, General David Hurley said.

“We have progressed beyond outdated thinking on homosexuality to give all ADF members the same access to the range of service benefits regardless of their sexual orientation or gender.

“My goal is for the Australian Defence Force to be recognised as a just, inclusive and fair-minded organisation that reflects the community it serves.

“We value our people and aim to support, enable and encourage everyone to achieve a rewarding and enduring military career.”

Defence LGBTI Information Service (DEFGLIS) chair, Squadron Leader Vince Chong, told the Star Observer the anniversary was extremely important.

“The fact that the chief of the Defence Force has come out to speak on this means we can actually stop and acknowledge the contribution that LGBTI people, LGBTI servicemen and women who’ve contributed to the defence of Australia,” he said.

“Not only in the past 20 years but also prior to that, although… their jobs were on the line if it was found out if their sexual orientation was discovered.”

Chong said he had not personally experienced discrimination in the ADF but said he had seen a shift in attitudes towards LGBTI servicemen and women in his 15 years experience.

He said when he first joined, five years after the ban was removed, an instructor told his military lecture that while homosexuality was allowed, it was certainly frowned upon and gay personnel would be encouraged to leave.

“The gay issue has always been seen to be a hard issue but if we look at what is happening I think that is turning around,” he said.

He said initiatives such as the recent Diversity Strengthens breakfast, information guides and diversity strategies were already supporting LGBTI servicemen and women.

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