Sexual orientation and gender identity in the Australian military are no longer relevant considerations in the 21st century, with the Australian Defence Force (ADF) allowing LGBT personnel to serve openly and receive the same entitlements as other personnel. The ban on gay and lesbian personnel was lifted by the Keating Government in 1992. Since 2009, domestic partners of LGBTI personnel have had the same access to military retirement pensions and superannuation as mixed-sex couples. Since 2010, the ADF also permits transgender people to serve openly and to transition while continuing their service.
Gay, lesbian and bisexual personnel
Homosexuals were not permitted to join the Australian armed forces until 1992. Gay and lesbian personnel who evaded this ban ran the risk of being dismissed from the military if their sexual orientation was discovered; this tended to be more strictly enforced during peacetime than wartime. Nevertheless, many homosexual personnel served in the military during the world wars, Korean War and Vietnam War, with their comrades often being aware of their orientation and accepting of it. The Australian military prohibited "unnatural offences" or "conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline" from the time of the Boer War, with the Australian Army introducing a specific anti-homosexuality policy after World War II at the urging of the United States military. From 1974 to 1992, the Australian military services had consistent policies against LGB personnel, who could be subject to surveillance, interviews, secret searches and discharge from the military.
The ban on homosexuals reflected both social attitudes at the time and British military law, which directly governed discipline in the armed forces until 1985. An Australian Defence Force Discipline Act was enacted in 1985, and the Australian Defence Force (ADF) set out its position on homosexuality the next year. This statement maintained the ban on homosexual behaviour among service personnel, on the grounds that it would erode command relationships and morale, raise risks of blackmail, create health problems and endanger minors. However, it did not require that homosexual personnel be automatically dismissed, with their commanding officer having a degree of discretion in the matter. Few homosexual personnel were dismissed during the period this statement was in force.
Lifting the ban
During the 1980s and early 1990s, gay and human rights activists sought to have the ban on homosexuals serving in the ADF lifted. In 1992 a case alleging discrimination on the basis of sexuality was lodged with the Australian Human Rights Commission and led to extensive debate of the ban among politicians and members of the ADF. In June 1992, the Minister for Defence Robert Ray reaffirmed the prohibition on homosexuality in Australia's armed forces, accepting a recommendation by the service chiefs. Adrian d'Hagé, a public relations officer in Defence told media that the presence of an admitted homosexual in defence units could be divisive. Senator Ray's decision was opposed by several Labor party politicians of the day, including Attorney-General Michael Duffy. Prime Minister Paul Keating approached Senator Terry Aulich to chair a special Caucus Committee to examine the issue and help Cabinet overcome the divide about the issue. The Caucus Committee heard from many stakeholders including the Defence Chiefs and reported in favour of lifting discrimination in September 1992. On 23 November 1992, the First Keating Ministry met to consider whether the ban on homosexuals in the Australian Defence Force should be lifted. Following the meeting, Prime Minister Paul Keating announced that the Government had decided to end discrimination preventing homosexual people serving in the defence forces, effective immediately. This outcome was heavily influenced by a perception in Cabinet that if they did not lift the ban, the issue would continue to be raised and the ADF needed to adapt to the changing social attitudes towards homosexuality as soon as possible. Opposition spokesman on defence Alexander Downer told media that, if elected, the Coalition would immediately reinstate the ban if the service chiefs were to advise for it: at this time the chiefs remained in favour of such a ban.
In 2003, the Howard Government blocked same-sex partners of military personnel from receiving the benefits of a support program that partners in heterosexual relationships were able to access. Since 1 January 2009, same-sex couples within the Australian Military, are treated the same as de facto mixed-sex couples, that extends many military benefits (e.g. Defence housing and superannuation).
Acknowledging the 20th anniversary of the lifting of the ban in November 2012, Chief of the Defence Force David Hurley said he was proud of the diversity of Australia's military. Hurley also noted that he regards diversity as being an asset for the ADF. Nevertheless, the ADF continued to have a reputation at this time for homophobia. A 2013 survey of gay Army personnel found that 59 per cent of respondents had not experienced harassment due to their sexuality, but 30 per cent hid their sexuality from other soldiers.
By the 2000s the ADF was seeking to actively engage the gay and lesbian community. An official defence contingent joined the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras for the first time in 2008 and the contingent marched in uniform for the first time in 2013. Unofficial support groups had marched in the parade from 1996, initially against the wishes of the ADF's headquarters.
Transgender and gender-neutral personnel
In 2010 ADF policy was amended to allow transgender Australians to openly serve without the risk of being discharged. The policy was updated following the advocacy of Bridget Clinch, who sought to transition from male to female while serving in the Australian Army.
The free medical services all members of the ADF receive as part of their service contract includes treatment for gender dysphoria. A Department of Defence spokesperson stated in 2015 that this can include meeting the costs of "some but not all aspects of the management of gender dysphoria, including surgery", with the level of assistance provided generally being set at a level equivalent to that available to all Australians through Medicare.
In 2017, from ADF records between November 2012 and March 2016, 27 ADF members received treatment for gender dysphoria. Seventeen had sex-change surgery. Ten of those were male-to-female reassignments at a cost of $1,052,330, not including the cost of ADF dispensed pharmaceuticals, or the cost of transition leave. For the ADF, "challenges posed by transgender personnel" include non-deployable periods and the use of toilets and bathrooms. Sex discrimination laws may be exempted by the ADF for gender-neutral personnel who are employed in key roles.
The ADF's financial support for gender dysphoria treatment was criticised in October 2017 by conservative politicians including Pauline Hanson, Cory Bernardi and Andrew Hastie. It was defended by the Defence Minister Marise Payne, Labor Defence Personnel spokesperson Amanda Rishworth, trans former army personnel Cate McGregor and Bridget Clinch.
The RAAF has produced a document for Airforce Cadets entitled Gender Transition Guidelines designed to build understanding and respect within the organisation. In conjunction with the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) the RAAF is creating opportunities to partner with LGBTI-supporting agencies.
Effect of inclusion on troop morale
A study conducted in 2000 by Aaron Belkin and Jason McNichol found that the lifting of the ban on gay service had not led to any identifiable negative effects on troop morale, combat effectiveness, recruitment and retention or other measures of military performance. The study also found that the lifting of the ban may have contributed to improvements in productivity and working environments for service members. Similarly, Hugh Smith states in the Oxford Companion to Australian Military History that predictions of damage to the ADF's morale and mass-resignations if the ban was lifted did not eventuate, and the reform did not lead to any widespread or long-lasting problems.
The Defence Force Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Intersex Information Service (DEFGLIS), founded in 2002 by Petty Officer Stuart O'Brien, supports and represents Australian Defence Force LGBTI personnel and their families. It does this through professional networking and peer support, by strengthening defence capability through greater inclusion of LGBTI people, and by educating defence about LGBTI matters.
DEFGLIS is registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission as a charity.
RAAF Wing Commander Vince Chong has been President of DEFGLIS since 2012. He has said that one of the biggest areas of progress was the increasing level of support and acceptance of trans* people. DEFGLIS won a 2013 Gold Award at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras for the "Show Stopping Parade Entry". Defence Force Recruiting and DEFGLIS won the Fair Day Stall of the Year at the 2015 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras DEFGLIS President Vince Chong has been awarded a gold commendation from the Vice Chief of the ADF for his leadership of the organisation.
- Same-sex unions and military policy
- Sexual orientation and military service
- Transgender people and military service
- Sexual orientation and gender identity in the United States military
- Smith 2009, p. 264.
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