Army veteran shares shocking treatment of gay and lesbian soldiers

Army hat

A former Australian soldier has shared her personal experience of how the Australian army used to humiliate and denigrate soldiers they suspected were gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Content Warning: This article discusses suicide. 

Yvonne Sillett, a former soldier, has shared her experience with the royal commission looking into veteran suicides. The commission is currently hearing testimony from people who have been members of the Australian Defence Forces who have had suicide ideation or lost family members to suicide.

Appearing before the inquiry on Monday Sillett shared that she had been called before her superiors in 1988 to discuss her security clearance. She described her experience as a “witch hunt” for homosexual ADF members.

During the three hour long interrogation Sillett discovered that undercover army personnel had been following her for months and documenting where she spent her nights out and which friends she met. At the time the army considered homosexuals a threat to national security.

“I knew that would be the end of my career and my dream,” Sillett told the inquiry, describing the treatment by the army as “humiliating and degrading”. The following year, after she began experiencing suicidal thoughts, she was given an honourable discharge.

Since leaving the army she’s gone on to found a support group for LGBTIQA+ defence force members, but she’s never received an apology for how she was treated.

Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual people were banned from serving in Australia’s Army, Navy and Air Force until November 23rd 1992 when Prime Minister Paul Keating announced the decision to remove the ban. Keating pushed ahead with the decision despite Defence Minister Robert Ray having publicly stated his support for the current rules.

At the time Keating said the decision to lift the ban “reflected community support for the removal of employment discrimination and brings the ADF into line with tolerant attitudes of Australians generally… The ADF acknowledges there are male and female homosexuals among its members and has advised the Government that these members are no longer actively sought out or disciplined because of their sexual orientation.”

Alexander Downer, who was the Opposition spokesperson for defence, said if his Liberal party was elected the ban would be reinstated if the chiefs of the defence forces asked for it. However when the Howard government came to power they did not follow through with the promise.

It would be 2010 before transgender people were allowed to serve in the military. In 2002 the Defence Force Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Intersex Information Service (DEFGLIS) was founded providing support for LGBTIQ+ service personnel and their families.

In 2021 Defence Minister Peter Dutton ordered that IDABOBIT (International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia), could no longer be marked by defence force personnel.

OIP Staff

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