Pride in Defence: The Australian Military & LGBTI Service Since 1945 – A Book Review

FLTLT Dana Pham reviews new book ‘Pride in Defence: The Australian Military & LGBTI Service Since 1945’ in a colourful interview with DEFGLIS Research Partner – Professor Noah Riseman.

Once upon a time, before there were global pandemics changing Australia and the world forever, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras was being annually fabulous, yet again. The official 2020 festival theme of What Matters was a call to reflect on and examine not only how far members of the Australian LGBTIQ+ community have come, but also how much more needs to be done.

Enter Professors Noah Riseman and Shirleene Robinson; they have spent years answering that call to action. Their latest book amplifies the voices of the most marginalised LGBTI members in Australia’s Defence community, as well as celebrates the unsung heroes of the community who continue to lift all of us, and our military capability, well… up! What a way to end the rollercoaster ride that was 2020.

With the help of the countless (but certainly not nameless), the authors built on their previous work Serving in Silence? with Graham Willett. I read the book, and wow, it’s both a scholarly resource and a great read. Pride in Defence drew on over 140 interviews (including yours truly); so I thought, why not interview DEFGLIS Research Partner – Professor, Noah Riseman?

Here goes…

Noah is a Professor of History at the Australian Catholic University (ACU). As a Professor of History, I’ve always wondered, he could have specialised in any history, so why is it that he chose to specialise in the Australian military histories of sexuality, gender and race? Indeed, his whole research career has been an ongoing and not necessarily planned journey.

He completed his undergraduate degree at Georgetown University, the only university in the United States that could offer him a program in Australian and New Zealand studies. This was followed by focused research outcomes (and a doctorate!) centred on Indigenous Australians serving throughout history, but it wasn’t until he tackled a succession of academic milestones that Noah came across an article titled ‘Gay Defence Ban 20 Years On’. Upon further research, it became apparent that there had been limited research conducted on Australia’s history of LGBTI service. The rest is history, pun intended.

Every story, including the stories told in Pride in Defence, is important. Noah and Shirleene did their best to incorporate as many stories as they could. Among the stories relating to discharge and separation from Defence, some really stood out for Noah.

“Alix Blundell’s [story] really stands out to me because of what she went through, the years she suffered from it, but also her finally getting justice.” Riseman explained.

“The now CDF General Angus Campbell met her through the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce process and she told him her story. In addition to a formal letter of apology from him, he hand-wrote a very heartfelt letter to her,” said Riseman.

The ADF has come a long way, and this is a big theme throughout the book. The organisation is doing well to support members of diverse sexuality, but when it comes to transgender and gender diverse members, the record according to Noah is more patchy.

“For all LGBTI members – but especially trans and gender diverse members – it seems like when things are going fine, everything is great, but when there are problems, the organisation does not necessarily handle them well,” said Riseman.

Notwithstanding, the Department of Defence was last year recognised as a Bronze Employer for LGBTQ inclusion in the 2020 Australian Workplace Equality Index.

The gains of the last 25+ years cannot be taken for granted, nor the people whose shoulders we stand upon be forgotten. It is through the excellent work of Noah and Shirleene that we are able to celebrate progress, but also recognise there is still considerable room for improvement.

“I think that LGBTI members and groups like DEFGLIS need to be vigilant and continue to push for visibility and inclusion,” said Riseman.

So, what’s next for Noah? He’s already in the midst of three new projects. One of them is the history of transgender people in Australia, which grew out of the amazing stories shared from a collection of trans members of the ADF. This has been ongoing for the past three years, and as one of the trans members interviewed by Noah, I’m sure that the fruits of this new project will not disappoint!

Pride in Defence: The Australian Military & LGBTI Service Since 1945′ is available courtesy of Melbourne University Press.

Image courtesy of Melbourne University Press