THREE decades since gay diggers were barred from taking part in ANZAC Day commemorations, the former head of the gay ex-servicemen’s association has told the Star Observer that Saturday will be “one of the best days of my life” as he lays a wreath at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance to remember the LGBTI defence personnel who served.

Similar solemn events will take place in Sydney, Canberra and Townsville in the first-ever official ANZAC Day commemoration of Australia’s LGBTI service personnel. All have the blessing of either the local shrine or RSL and will feature LGBTI staff from the forces in full uniform.

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The Defence Lesbian and Gay Information Service (DEFGLIS), which is organising the commemorations, said it hoped the wreath layings would become an ANZAC Day tradition.

Max Campbell, who is now 71, served in the Royal Australian Air Force for 20 years including a stint in Vietnam.

Rising to the rank of warrant officer, he kept his sexuality secret until after he left the force in 1981 and later headed up the association of gay ex-servicemen.

In 1982, a group of gay former defence personnel attempted to lay a wreath at the Melbourne shrine following the official ceremonies.

“As the fellows reached the top of the stairs, where the wreaths were being laid inside the shrine, the two guards closed the ranks, barred the way and said you’re not wanted go away,” Campbell recalled.

Melbourne gay newspaper City Rhythm photographed the incident (pictured below) and reported that a “visibly agitated” Bruce Ruxton — the late president of the Victorian RSL — had said: “We don’t want them to lay a wreath because we don’t want them and they are just another start to the denigration of ANZAC Day.”

Melbourne gay newspaper City Rhythm captured the moment gay ex-servicement were barred from taking part in Melbourne's ANZAC Day commemorations in 1982. (Image supplied by DEFGLIS)

Melbourne gay newspaper City Rhythm captured the moment gay ex-servicement were barred from taking part in Melbourne’s ANZAC Day commemorations in 1982. (Scanned pages supplied by DEFGLIS; original photographs all taken by Jay Watchorn.)

 

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“It was a terrible situation for them,” Campbell said.

“As the guards are police if [the group] had put up any argument they would have been arrested”.

Campbell said he was angry at the incident but not surprised as homosexuality was yet to be allowed in the armed forces, so you were “looking over your shoulder and if caught doing anything you were discharged, probably within 48 hours”.

DEFGLIS president Vince Chong said he hoped Saturday’s wreath layings would become an annual event.

“While the community may have not been ready in the 80s for such a commemoration, the centenary of ANZAC is an appropriate time for such a commemoration and its overdue,” he said.

“Throughout Australia’s proud history, brave LGBTI service man and women fought for freedoms they did not have themselves.

“They were all equal on the battlefield but they were not equal at home.

“That’s why it’s important to create a new perpetuating tradition so that their sacrifice is not forgotten.”

The laying of a rainbow-coloured wreath in Sydney would be the first time LGBTI defence personnel had been commemorated in Australia’s largest city, according to Chong.

Campbell remarked that it was an honour to lead the LGBTI contingent in Melbourne on ANZAC Day.

“It’s going to be one of the best days of my life because its like we’ve come full circle from what we went through and now to be part of a group of people able to lay a wreath with no problem,” he said.

This year, the most senior officers yet led the army, navy and air force at Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade.

While Campbell said he was sure pockets of homophobia still remained in the Australian Defence Force, he was nonetheless impressed at official progress on LGBTI inclusion since he was enlisted.

“In my lifetime, I didn’t think I was going to see the situation as good as it now is,” he said.

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