The timing could not be better. With gay marriage opponents pushing the line that everything is hunky-dory for gay people so please stop whinging, an ADF inquiry has given a free pass to anti-gay bullying and death threats.
A recently concluded year-long inquiry has let off 40 servicemembers who joined a Facebook hate group established to force out “bum bandits in the ADF”. Iraq veterans and senior officers were among those outed by the anti-gay group, vilified and threatened with physical harm for their “filthy lifestyle decision”.
The active-duty members involved in the group will not be charged or face any punishment. Instead they were warned to update the privacy settings on their Facebook accounts and unspecified “administrative action”.
An Army major targeted by the group — who became so fed up with the ADF shelving his complaint from August last year that he went to the media — will be the one who suffers most from this incident.
The victim’s lawyer spoke to gay newspaper Star Observer and compared this outcome with a recent female officer charged with insubordination for swearing at a superior officer. He questioned why a much more serious case of threatening the life of a superior officer and documenting those threats online went unpunished.
“I think the only reasonable conclusion that can be made from that is the ADF is completely indifferent,” he said.
The victim could face charges (refusing to obey Defence Instruction Admin 08-1) if he publicly criticises any part of this internal process or outcome. So could any fair-minded ADF member who objects to the double standard applied to anti-gay harassment.
Remember what did happen when Australia was told of a slanderous ledger of women on HMAS Success. Or the outing of a female cadet’s private moments. Justified righteous outrage. Overflowing letters pages. Six inquiries.
DEFGLIS, a peer-support group for LGBTI members of Defence, isn’t asking for six inquiries, just a fair go for members who deal with harassment at work because of their s-xual orientation or gender status. Some of its members say they have been forced back into the closet after being transferred from supportive environments into units with a homophobic culture.
“Incidents such as this and unreported incidents of homophobic behaviour are disappointing and the department needs to be aware that the problem is not solved,” said DEFGLIS founder Stuart O’Brien. “Policy and procedures are not by themselves enough. Homophobic culture must be addressed through training and leadership.”
The only training ADF offers is a well-hidden webinar called “Understanding Homos-xuality” seemingly targeted at the few members of society still unable to distinguish it from b-astiality or p-edophilia.
Despite that misstep, the ADF’s equal opportunity and diversity policies look just like some of the best corporate examples. If Defence culture respected or even grudgingly followed those policies then many members’ lives would be immeasurably improved. But ask anyone who has been through this experience and they’ll tell you a very different story.
The above victim’s lawyer put into words what the members cannot: “What’s practised is an extreme form of threatening and violent behaviour towards gay and lesbian people that has manifested itself this time in social networking.”
Next year will be 20 years since the ADF lifted its ban on gay and lesbian members. It would be a step in the right direction if, before that anniversary, Defence leadership would own up to failing its LGBTI members and promise to do better by them.
*Harley Dennett has been based in the US documenting the end of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell ban on gay and lesbian personnel.