Cabinet debate over gays in the military revealed

2015 Sydney Mardi Gras

Cabinet papers released today show that 25 years ago the Australian government was told that allowing gay and lesbian people to openly serve in the military would lead to enlisted defense force personnel being preyed upon by gay men.

Robert Ray who was Defence Minister at in the Keating government in the early 90’s, argued against allowing gay people to serve in the military.

“Protection from homosexual abuse is significant in situations where young and influential Service personnel are required to live in segregated, single-gender, barrack-style accommodation,’’ Senator Ray said in a Cabinet submission.

“The opportunity for abuse by homosexuals in these instances is, therefore, much greater than that by heterosexuals.’’

The Defence Minister’s position was backed by the senior officers in the Australian Defence Forces but was overruled in favour of a positive approach taken by then Attorney General Michael Duffy.

A formal ban on LGBT service personal was introduced in 1986, shortly after homosexuality was decriminalised in the ACT. The policy called for people who were revealed as being gay or lesbian to be terminated from their employment.

“Homosexual behaviour is not accepted or condoned in the Defence Force. The ADF policy on homosexuality is that when a member admits to or is proven to be involved in homosexual conduct, consideration is to be given to the termination of that member’s service.” the policy read.

In 1992 a new policy was introduced that stated, “The ADF has no concern with the sexual activities of its members provided they are not unlawful and are not contrary to or inconsistent with the inherent requirements of the ADF.”

The previous policy however was not rescinded, leading to the ADF having two opposing position statements. After the cabinet show down the 1986 policy was removed.

A cabinet note said the government could expect to have support from the gay community and social justice groups but would be criticised by veterans groups for the change in policy.

Shortly afterwards RSL National President Brigadier Alf Garland told the Sydney Morning Herald that his organisation believed that homosexuals were “sexual deviants who have a medical problem and should not be treated any differently to drug addicts”.

The gay community found an unexpected ally however in highly respected WWII prisoner-of-war Sir Ernest Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop who told the the same newspaper there had always been homosexuals in the armed services.

“Don’t let us delude ourselves … It is a mistake if you start labeling people too hard,” he said.

The Keating government’s decision to allow gay and lesbian defence force personnel to serve openly put them a decade ahead of other countries including the United States and Great Britain who did not address the issue until 2011.

Today the Defence Forces proudly march in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, and the service has had many high profile gay, lesbian and transgender service people who have made a positive contribution to the armed forces.

Image: Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (provided).

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