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Members of the Australian Army marching in the 2013 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras

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

Historical prohibition

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[2]

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.[1]

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.[1] 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.[3] Senator Ray's decision was opposed by several Labor party politicians of the day, including Attorney-General Michael Duffy.[4] 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.[5][6] 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.[7][8] 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.[1] 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.[9]

Military benefits

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.[10] 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).[11]

Growing inclusion

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.[12] Nevertheless, the ADF continued to have a reputation at this time for homophobia.[13] 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.[14]

By the 2000s the ADF was seeking to actively engage the gay and lesbian community.[13] 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.[15] Unofficial support groups had marched in the parade from 1996, initially against the wishes of the ADF's headquarters.[16]

In 2013 the Department of Defence commissioned Army pride cufflinks and lapel pins which combine the Rising Sun badge with a rainbow flag.[17]

Transgender and gender-neutral personnel

In 2010 ADF policy was amended to allow transgender Australians to openly serve without the risk of being discharged.[18] The policy was updated following the advocacy of Bridget Clinch, who sought to transition from male to female while serving in the Australian Army.[18]

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.[19]

In 2017, from ADF records[20] 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.[21] 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.[22]

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.[23] It was defended by the Defence Minister Marise Payne, Labor Defence Personnel spokesperson Amanda Rishworth, trans former army personnel Cate McGregor and Bridget Clinch.[23][24]

The RAAF has produced a document for Airforce Cadets entitled Gender Transition Guidelines designed to build understanding and respect within the organisation.[25][26] In conjunction with the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) the RAAF is creating opportunities to partner with LGBTI-supporting agencies.[26]

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.[27] 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.[28]


The Defence Force Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Intersex Information Service (DEFGLIS),[29][30] founded in 2002 by Petty Officer Stuart O'Brien,[16] supports and represents Australian Defence Force LGBTI personnel and their families.[31] 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.[32]

RAAF Wing Commander Vince Chong has been President of DEFGLIS since 2012.[33] He has said that one of the biggest areas of progress was the increasing level of support and acceptance of trans* people.[34] DEFGLIS won a 2013 Gold Award at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras for the "Show Stopping Parade Entry".[35] Defence Force Recruiting and DEFGLIS won the Fair Day Stall of the Year at the 2015 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras[36] DEFGLIS President Vince Chong has been awarded a gold commendation from the Vice Chief of the ADF for his leadership of the organisation.[37][38]

See also



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Smith 2009, p. 264.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Riseman, Noah (24 November 2017). "Twenty-five years after the ban on lesbians and gays in the military was lifted, there is much to celebrate" (in en). The Conversation. The Conversation Media Group Ltd. Retrieved 24 November 2017. 
  3. "Ray backs force chiefs on gays". 19 June 1992. p. 1. 
  4. Connors, Tom (19 September 1992). "Cabinet to life service ban on gays 'within weeks'". p. 3. 
  5. Report of the Caucus Joint Working Group on Homosexual Policy in the Australian Defence Force September 1992.
  6. The Committees approach was outlined in Outmanoeuvring Defence: The Australian Debates Over Gay and Lesbian Military Service 1992 by Noah Riseman Australian Journal of Politics and History Volume 61, Number 4 2015.
  7. Keating, Paul (23 November 1992). "Australian Defence Force policy on homosexuality". Australian Government. Archived from the original on 22 October 2016. 
  8. "Australia Ends a Prohibition On Homosexuals in Military". 24 November 1992. 
  9. Peake, Ross (24 November 1992). "Uproar as Govt ends forces' ban on gays". p. 1. 
  10. Walsh, Kerry-Anne (26 October 2003). "Gay couples miss out on military aid". Fairfax Media. Archived from the original on 10 December 2003. 
  11. "Defence law changes recognise same-sex couples". ABC News. 18 December 2008. Retrieved 14 October 2017. 
  12. "Twenty years since ADF ends gay ban". News Corp. 24 November 2012. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 Marriner, Cosima (13 May 2012). "Twenty years on, great strides for full inclusion in the military". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 15 October 2017. 
  14. McPhedran, Ian (9 September 2013). "Gay soldiers safe from harassment but hide sexuality, survey finds". Retrieved 15 October 2017. 
  15. Department of Defence (7 March 2015). "Largest ever Defence contingent to march in Mardi Gras parade". Australian Government. Archived from the original on 15 March 2015. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 "LGBTI History in Defence". DEFGLIS. Retrieved 7 August 2017. 
  17. McCormick, Joseph (4 December 2013). "Australia: Defence Department defends production of pride flag cufflinks". Pink News. Retrieved 13 October 2017. 
  18. 18.0 18.1 Beck, Maris (5 December 2010). "Sex-change soldier forces army to scrap transgender policy". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 30 November 2017. 
  19. "Australian Defence Force spends $640,000 on gender identity treatment for transitioning troops". Adelaide Now. 11 June 2015. Retrieved 14 October 2017. 
  20. "Air Force diversity handbook: Transitioning gender in Air Force and related documents". Australian Defence Force. July 2015. Retrieved 13 October 2017. 
  21. "Australian Defence Force personnel sex-changes cost taxpayers more than $1m". Daily Telegraph. 13 October 2017. Retrieved 14 October 2017. 
  22. Kelly, Joe (13 October 2017). "Taxpayers’ $1m bill for soldier sex change ops". The Australian. Retrieved 13 October 2017. 
  23. 23.0 23.1 Karp, Paul; Robertson, Joshua (16 October 2017). "Marise Payne defends ADF provision of gender reassignment surgery". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 November 2017. 
  24. Clinch, Bridget (18 October 2017). "As a trans veteran I’m angry at calls to stop funding gender reassignment surgery | Bridget Clinch". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 November 2017. 
  25. Kelly, Joe (22 September 2017). "Cadet X clears a path for gender-neutral Aussie soldiers". The Australian. Retrieved 13 October 2017. 
  26. 26.0 26.1 "International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia - 17 May 2017 Inclusion and Diversity". Facebook. May 2017. Retrieved 13 October 2017. 
  27. Belkin, Aaron; McNichol, Jason (1 September 2000). "The Effects of Including Gay and Lesbian Soldiers in the Australian Defence Forces: Appraising the Evidence". Archived from the original on 15 June 2016. 
  28. Smith 2009, pp. 264-265.
  29. "DEFGLIS Serving with pride". DEFGLIS. Retrieved 13 October 2017. 
  30. "DEFGLIS - Defence LGBTI Information Service". Facebook. Retrieved 13 October 2017. 
  31. "DEFGLIS: Serving with pride". 
  32. "Charity Name: DEFGLIS Defence LGBTI Information Service Incorporated". Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. 1 January 2002. Retrieved 13 October 2017. 
  33. "Beyond Combat: History and the military’s other tasks". UNSW. 13 July 2017. Retrieved 13 October 2017. 
  34. Brook Benedict (8 September 2015). "I'm proud of the contributions LGBTI people make to Defence. Senior Australian military chief". Star Observer. Retrieved 13 October 2017. 
  35. Chong, Vince. "Gold Award for Australian Defence Force". Retrieved 13 October 2017. 
  36. "Defence wins Mardi Gras awardauthor= Smith, James". Retrieved 13 October 2017. 
  37. Dennett, Harley (26 May 2013). "Hubby @VinceRAAF being awarded a gold commendation". Twitter. Retrieved 13 October 2017. 
  38. Dennis 2008, p. 100.

Works consulted

  • Smith, Hugh (2009). "Homosexuality in the Defence Forces". In Dennis, Peter; Grey, Jeffrey; Morris, Ewan et al.. The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History (2nd ed.). South Melbourne: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195517842. 

Further reading

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