The Australian Defence Force’s highest ranked lesbian officer was promoted to a one-star air commodore last month, believed to be the first openly gay or lesbian officer to reach the upper brass ranks.

Air Commodore Tracy Smart, head of the Air Force Health Services and Director General of Corporate Health Management at Joint Health Command, will march in the Mardi Gras Parade on Saturday with her partner of 10 years, Lisa Padzensky, and about 120 Defence Force colleagues and their families.

My rank is still nice and shiny. I hadn’t really thought about it actually, whether I was the first to be [an openly gay or lesbian] one-star rank, Smart told Sydney Star Observer.

She remembers when the Australian government lifted the gay ban in 1992, while she was serving on exchange with the Royal Air Force in the UK and wasn’t identifying as a lesbian yet.

The guys there said -˜I hear you Australians have revoked rule number 1′. It was a reference to a Monty Python sketch on the British Army -” Rule number 1: No poofters.

At the time I wasn’t aware of myself, so I didn’t have that conflict of trying to hide. So I’m lucky in retrospect that I didn’t have to go through that. My experiences have all been quite positive.

Smart, who joined 24 years ago as a medical student to subsidise the cost of the degree and gain some life experience, has been added to the Air Force’s senior leadership team website, expanding her profile as a role model within Defence.

She has also been the face of Australia while on numerous exchanges overseas, including with the US Air Force where gays are still banned.

When you’re on exchange representing your country, you try your best to play by their rules, which are of course Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I didn’t make a big song and dance about it.

There were certainly people in the workplace who knew and I didn’t have any problems.
Smart moved in with her American-born partner Lisa while on exchange.

We met on the internet on a Xena: Warrior Princess mailing list, which is the ultimate cliche. She was able to get permanent residency and citizenship based on being my partner.

It makes you appreciate that Australia really does pretty well. We might have complaints from time to time and things seem a bit slow, but we’re ahead of a lot of other countries.

Although Defence entitlements took many years to catch up with the existence of same-sex families in their ranks, Smart said there was always support, even before they could officially live together in Defence housing. Now the ADF is a committed supporter of diversity and equity.

One of the things that matter to me [by marching in the Mardi Gras parade] is to say gay men and lesbians are in every walk of life, including what in Australia now is a highly respected profession, like medicine and Defence. The more people who do it the stronger that message is.

Certainly the support we got last year from the rest of the community and the 78ers was really good. I took that as support for the defence force as well, so say we appreciate that you’re serving.

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