THE highest ranking trans* member of the Australia Defence Force said the positive reception she received from senior colleagues after she revealed her gender transition plans saved her life, which had been “hanging by a thread.”

Lieutenant Colonel Cate McGregor spoke today at the annual Pride in Diversity Australia Workplace Equality Index awards, which saw US investment bank Goldman Sachs get the gong for best Australian employer for LGBTI people.

In a deeply-personal speech, McGregor, who is a defence speechwriter and cricket pundit, said she felt she was “imploding” before she plucked up the courage to tell her boss, Chief of Army David Morrison.

“The bottom line matters, efficiency matters and productivity matter but in the last analysis… diversity and acceptance is really a matter of life and death.” McGregor said.

“I’ve lived that because the by the time I had the conversation with [Morrison] I was ready to end my life, I was hanging by a thread.

“I had barely slept, I was medicating with caffeine to stay awake, I felt like I was imploding.”

McGregor, who has been awarded the Order of Australia medal for her exceptional service, recalled a conversation with Morrison where the army chief said he was humbled by McGregor’s frankness and would ensure the force supported her through her gender transition.

“I can really say the fact I had a job to hang onto, a place to go, a place I was welcomed, saved my life,” she said.

Defence accepted diversity, said McGregor, because differences between colleagues always came second to the ability to get the job done.

Financial institutions and the public sector were big winners at the awards, held in Sydney’s Ivy Ballroom, with Curtin University coming in second and the Westpac, Commonwealth and ANZ banks all finishing in the top five.

The number of organisations participating the Index had grown 83 per cent, organisers said, since the first awards were held four years ago.

Pride in Diversity director Dawn Hough said organisations were taking inclusiveness more seriously than ever before: “Organisations outside the top 20 are completing submissions showing a depth of work comparable to top 10 organisations a couple of years ago.”

Former High Court Judge, Michael Kirby, who was at today’s event, said: “It’s important to bring home to shareholders that it’s bad economics to discriminate against people and it means people go forward not able to give their full energy to their employment.”

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Pride in Diversity Australia Workplace Equality Index award winners 2014

1.Goldman Sachs
2.Curtin University
3.Westpac Group
4.Commonwealth Bank
6.Australian Federal Police / IBM
8.The University of Western Australia
9.Lend Lease
10.KPMG / Accenture
12.Herbert Smith Freehills
14.National Australia Bank / Macquarie Banking and Financial Services
16. Central Coast Young People’s Mental Health
17.American Express
19.Macquarie University
20.Gilbert + Tobin / Australian Red Cross Blood Service

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