The plans to light up the colonnades of Melbourne’s iconic landmark Shrine Of Remembrance in rainbow lights on Sunday evening to honour LGBTQI veterans was scrapped. In the end the hate and threats directed at the Shrine staff forced the management to cancel the plans. 

“Over several days, our staff have received and been subject to sustained abuse and, in some cases, threats,” Shrine CEO Dean Lee told Star Observer in a statement. “We have seen something of what members of the LGBTIQ+ community experience every day. It is hateful.”

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The rainbow lights display was being planned to coincide with the opening of a new exhibition, ‘Defending with Pride: Stories of LGBTQ+ Service’ that is to run till July 2023. Soon after the plans were made public last week, there was a barrage of homophobic and transphobic hate that was directed against the decision. 

Gay Billboard

3AW host Neil Mitchell and former Liberal candidate Katherine Deves railed against plans for the Shrine of Remembrance to be lit in rainbow colours to honour LGBTQI veterans.

Among those who opposed the plans were former Liberal candidate Katherine Deves, who railed that the Shrine was being “used to promote divisive political ideologies.”

3AW host Neil Mitchell, claimed the rainbow flag was “divisive” and that the Shrine would be “lit up like a gay billboard”. 

“In the interests of minimising harm, we have given this matter careful consideration and sought the guidance of the Shrine’s partners and friends, including veteran associations, representatives of the LGBTIQ+ veteran community and the Victorian Government,” said Lee. 

“The stories we seek to tell. The service we seek to honour. These will be told. The brave lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender diverse and queer people in the armed forces will be honoured.”

Lee pointed to the past, when the creation of a memorial to women’s service at the Shrine and the annual service to commemorate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island service men and women faced virulent opposition. 

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“A decade ago, conversations around veteran suicide were taboo, yet today it is the subject of a Royal Commission,” said Lee, adding “Society’s values change, and the Shrine is a participant in that change and will continue its efforts to honour the service and sacrifice of all who have served Australia.”

LGBTQI Defence Personnel Disappointed

Defence Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Information Service (DEFGLIS) President Rachael Cosgrove said that the community was “disappointed” at the decision to cancel the rainbow lights display at the Shrine of Remembrance.

“The LGBTQI+ community feels disappointment and sadness almost on a daily basis,” Cosgrove told the media at the Last Post Commemorative Service at the Shrine, where the rainbow flag was raised for the first time. This week’s service was “linked to recognition of LGBTIQ+ members of the Australian Defence Force”.

According to LGBTQI advocates the rainbow lights display could have sent out a powerful message of inclusion.

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“This is why we needed it to be lit up in Rainbow. I’ve been looking forward to this exhibition at the Melbourne War Memorial ‘Defending with Pride: Stories of LGBTQ+ Service.’ My thoughts today are with LGBTIQ+ veterans who served in silence,” Switchboard CEO Joe Ball posted on Twitter.

Defending With Pride

Defence Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Information Service (DEFGLIS) members and supporters lay a wreath at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance on ANZAC Day 2022: From left: GPCAPT Mick Jansen, FLTLT Danie Bunting, FLGOFF(AAFC) Dan Morris, FLTLT Brad Milsteed, FLTLT Lachlan Saunders, Stuart Martin, Bron Richardson, LTCOL Kristy Hudson, Sameer Mane. Image: Supplied

The exhibition Defending with Pride: Stories of LGBTQ+ Service, which is the first of its kind for an Australian war memorial, will go ahead, for now at least. 

The exhibition was launched on Sunday in the presence of Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Matt Thistlethwaite MP.

“All Australians who serve in our defence forces should be honoured for their service to our country,” Minister Thistlethwaite said in a statement. “The stories of service from across our great country are as unique as the individuals who share them, and each one deserves to be told.

CEO Lee said that the Shrine was “proud to recognise and celebrate the history and service of LGBTIQ+ people, something that has traditionally been absent or under-represented within Australia’s war memorials.”

Defending With Pride opens at Melbourne’s Shrine Of Remembrance on 1 August 2022 and runs until July 2023.

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