Call for apology to ex-military service members discharged for being LGBTI

Call for apology to ex-military service members discharged for being LGBTI

A military historian has called on the Australian government to deliver a national apology to former LGBTI service members who were dishonourably discharged on the basis of their sexuality.

Associate professor Noah Riseman sent a brief for the scheme to Defence Minister Christopher Pyne and other top politicians in both government and opposition.

Riseman also calls for a redress scheme which would allow for service members to have their discharges changed to honourable, and suggests the potential for a financial justice package for members who suffered as a result of being investigated or discharged over their sexuality, gender or intersex variations.

Riseman notes that Australia had longstanding bans on lesbian, gay and bisexual people serving but only instituted an explicit policy against homosexuality in 1944, though they were applied inconsistently up to 1974.

According to research, lesbian and bisexual women were disproportionately targeted compared to their male counterparts.

Though trans people were not formally banned from serving until 2000, rules like ‘conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline’ could be used to dismiss those who cross-dressed or even looked to transition.

Intersex variations were also unaddressed by formal policy, and depending on the type of variation some intersex people were allowed to serve.

However, Riseman notes in the brief that those who were discharged were treated as “medical situations” and were perceived as “‘innocents’, unlike LGBT people whose ‘behaviour’ made them unfit for military service.”

Service members would be investigating using invasive means such as anal or penile exams, with undercover police sent into queer establishments, compelling those who confessed to name other LGBTI people in their ranks, and conducting secret searches of people’s homes.

“While the present situation is much better for LGBTI service members, many of those who were discharged or otherwise experienced hardship under the earlier policies against LGBT service are still suffering,” Riseman writes.

“The stress of hiding their authentic selves and the traumatising experience of the investigations, interviews and discharges have left ongoing mental health problems for some ex-service personnel.

“We also know that there were LGBT members under investigation who suicided.

“For those who rebuilt their lives after discharging, still there is the feeling that the ADF abandoned them and there has never been a proper reconciliation.

“An apology and redress scheme can send the message that the ADF and Commonwealth Government recognise that what happened to LGBT service members in the past was wrong and will go a long way towards strengthening the ADF’s commitment to the inclusion of LGBTI members.”

Riseman goes on to outline the various forms these apologies and redress schemes could take, suggesting that the Prime Minister and Defence Minister should deliver formal apologies to parliament, and that the Chief of the Defence Force should give a separate apology.

“Restorative justice may take many forms ranging from apologies from the service chiefs or other high-ranking officers, to amended medical discharges that facilitate the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to cover costs for ongoing medical or psychological problems, to financial compensation,” Riseman says.

“Financial compensation should only be reserved for cases when the physical or mental distress suffered because of the investigation and/or discharge process had enduring impacts on the Defence member.”

The brief forms part of ongoing research conducted by Riseman, Graham Willett and Shirleene Robinson, who this year co-authored Serving in Silence?, a book exploring the military contributions of LGBT servicemen and women.

Greens Equality Spokesperson Senator Janet Rice saw the call for an apology and tweeted that she would raise the issue with Morrison and Payne.

“I will be writing to Prime Minister Morrison and Defence Minister Pyne calling for an apology to former LGBT defence force personnel who were humiliated, intimidated, spied on and forced to resign their posts. It’s the least we can do,” she said.

Click here to read Riseman’s full brief.

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