Every year the LGBTI community asks if Sydney’s Mardi Gras is still relevant. Usually there’s at least one galling display of injustice to warrant making a fuss, but it also has reasons to celebrate. Next year it will celebrate the strong signal from Defence that it believes in a fair go.
This year I marched in Mardi Gras for the first time, alongside my hubby — a veteran RAAFie — and fellow Defence families. Gay soldiers, here and in the US, have always been a great journalistic interest, meaty with historic injustice, conflict and iconic imagery. But after marching, and connecting with other Defence families, it became hard to stay objective knowing how much they sacrifice and how little respect some sections of the Australian community afford them.
The Defence announcement it would enter a uniformed marching formation in the 2013 Sydney Mardi Gras — many years after police, fireys and emergency services — coincided with the release of a new video guide for ADF members to avoid more social media controversies.
Not all took the message to heart. Either message.
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“This is absolute crap. Fine, go and march in your mardi gras, but leave your uniform at home. I have served for a long time now but if this happens I might just leave,” wrote Frank McKnight on an unofficial Defence community Facebook page.
(It’s worth noting that many unofficial Defence community websites have been shut down for hate comments about minority groups, especially gays and Muslims. And the Official ADF Defence Alumni Network — a Facebook copycat — hasn’t attracted many users.)
Others complained of the ADF sinking under political correctness and the debasement of the uniforms they wore in combat. But there were also many more comments supporting the troops marching.
Should it really be this controversial for Defence to participate, officially, next to ambos, fireys and cops, in a parade where Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, atheists and virtually every ethnic or cultural group in Australia walk side by side? Even the most apolitical corporate entities send a delegation in business uniform, because it’s an important cultural and community event.
When the troops march, it will be a formed body, in step, backs straight, the very finest traditions of Australia’s profession of arms. Hopefully with a band.
Defence leadership has worked tirelessly to modernise the services and make culture change a force-wide reality after the abuse complaints, the Skype affair and online hate-comment controversies. While the previous generations of leadership have acknowledged the principles of diversity and a fair go, the current leaders are actually doing it.
The dizzying array of inquiries are mostly all the public sees, but underneath there’s a commitment, supported by education for commanders and troops, increased opportunities for women, support and mentoring services … and yes, “policies” too.
It will take some time for everyone in the active service and veteran community to catch up, but this gay Defence spouse thanks General David Hurley and his service chiefs for helping the ADF reflect the community it serves.