Peter Peridis was not an obvious gay man. In his navy years, he kept his sexuality a secret from most of his peers and didn’t bring any men back to base. The only thing that stood him apart from the other servicemen at his Adelaide naval base was his cleanliness and quiet life, he said.
I wasn’t a drinker. I didn’t go out with the boys and get pissed. I did oil painting and had people over for dinner and stuff. In March 1997 my roommate changed and I got a new person in. This guy thought it was odd I kept my house clean, he said.
He started to make comments that I must be gay. They became questions. I said I wasn’t interested in his questions and it was none of his business.
He spread rumours, Peridis said. Then he began making threats. The threats became more aggressive. After six months, Peridis reported him.
By August he didn’t care where he was abusing me or who overheard it. He took photographs of himself having sex with his girlfriend, and threw them at me, saying, -˜This is what a real man does. Take a look and learn.’ At the time, I had a long-term partner. It got to the stage where I had to sneak out when I was going to see him.
Peridis said an investigation team arrived from Sydney to determine whether any abuse had taken place. The investigators asked a number of people on the base about Peridis’s habits -“ whether his friends seemed gay, whether he had been seen at gay bars -“ but not about the housemate or the homophobic abuse.
The investigators found that Peridis and his housemate had a personality clash because Peridis was too clean to live with, he told the Star. They found that no abuse had taken place.
After the investigation Peridis felt that his peers were trying to get rid of him. One said if he went to sea, he wouldn’t come back. He organised a transfer to the medical corps, on the condition his pay would not be cut. It was cut. Then he did his cruciate ligament in a work-related accident, and left the navy. Before the incident, he had been fast-tracked through the military and was on his way to a great career.
Peridis contacted the ABC and Sydney Star Observer this year. He had been in touch with activist Rodney Croome, who told him about other servicepeople who had experienced similar situations in the armed forces. I felt obliged to do something, Peridis said.
In 1992 it became illegal for the Armed Services to discriminate against gay and lesbian servicepeople. Unlike the United States, Australians are allowed to be open about their sexuality. But most aren’t, Peridis said.
Those who are out at work face different kinds of discrimination. According to a survey conducted by the Defence Gay and Lesbian Information Service, gay and lesbian servicepeople missed out on a range of benefits afforded to their heterosexual workmates.
Current policy has cost me in excess of $25,000 in benefits and allowances over the last six years, a 28-year-old gay RAAF serviceman said in his submission.
Discrepancies include housing allowances and partners’ relocation allowances. Partners are often refused access passes to base. Sometimes, servicepeople are not allowed to nominate their partners as next of kin in the event that something happens to them.
I am also currently dealing with issues related to an upcoming deployment to Iraq which are solely caused by Defence’s refusal to acknowledge a same-sex partner. Despite 12 years of dedicated service and general satisfaction with continued ADF service, Defence’s current policy on my relationship has led me to where I am now actively seeking alternative employment and intend to resign as soon as possible, the serviceman said.
More than 150 people responded to the survey. Of those respondents in steady relationships, all said they would apply to have their relationship recognised if it were possible. Several said they would leave the forces if things did not change.
I am sick to death of being discriminated against for something that is no one’s business but my partner’s and my own, a 24-year-old lesbian soldier said.
I am seriously thinking about putting in my discharge as I do not want to be separated from my partner to defend a country, government and defence force that do not care about the life of many of its members.
Others just said they hoped things would get better.
As a 34-year-old navy man said: I am not asking for special treatment or to be treated differently because of my sexuality, but to be treated exactly the same as a heterosexual and no more.