Forty years ago, a group of ex-servicepersons went to the Shrine Of Remembrance in Melbourne on Anzac Day to lay a wreath in honour of gay and lesbian veterans who had served and died in war. The authorities denied them the right to lay the wreath. 

In 1982, a majority of Australian states had laws that criminalised male same-sex relationships, including NSW (which decriminalised it in 1984), Northern Territory (1983), Western Australia 1989), Queensland (1991) and Tasmania (1997). 

The Australian Defence Force lifted the ban on openly gay and lesbian personnel serving in the military in 1992. The ban on transgender military personnel was lifted in 2015.

That year, representatives of the Defence Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Information Service (DEFGLIS) for the first time, officially laid a wreath at the Shrine of Remembrance and have been doing that every year since then. 

Recognising The Hurt Caused 40 Years Ago

LGBTQI personnel of The Australian Defence Force at the 2022 Sydney Gay And Lesbian Mardi Gras,

This year around 50,000 people attended the Anzac Day Dawn Service, including DEFGLIS representatives who attended the Rainbow Wreath Ceremony. The special ceremony acknowledged the 40th anniversary of being denied the right to lay the wreath. 

“The significance of coming together as a community on the 40th anniversary, to reflect on the sacrifices and pay tribute to the LGBTIQ+ ex and current serving members, shows the journey we have done and continue to travel for the inclusion of all,” Racheal Cosgrove, President of DEFGLIS, said in a statement. 

The Shrine’s management said they recognised the hurt that the denial had caused 40 years ago. “As a memorial that honours the service and sacrifice of all Victorians and Australians in war and peacekeeping, the Shrine seeks to be inclusive and reflective of the Victorian community it serves, to provide a place where all are welcome,” Shrine of Remembrance CEO, Dean Lee said in a statement, adding, “We recognise that 40 years ago this event excluded members of the LGBTIQ+ community: a deeply regrettable event.”

Exhibition Will Celebrate LGBT Veterans

The ‘rainbow’ wreath laid by DEFGLIS on Anzac Day, 2022. Image: Supplied.

Later, this year in August, the Shrine will host a new exhibition that showcases the stories and experiences of LGBTQI service people. The exhibition ‘Defending with Pride: Stories of LGBTQ+ Service’ opens on August 1, 2022, and is being developed in association with community leaders, including Victorian Commissioner for LGBTIQ+ Communities Todd Fernando,  Professor Noah Riseman, Australian Catholic University; Dr Graham Willet, Melbourne University and the Australian Queer Archives; Racheal Cosgrove, President, DEFGLI. 

According to Lee, the exhibition will “celebrate their incredible contribution to service—often in the face of discrimination, marginalisation and silencing”.

“I am extremely honoured to have the support from the Shrine in the development of their exhibition and the Rainbow Wreath Ceremony 2022,” said Cosgrove.

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