From Compassion to Impassioned – An Ally’s Journey

In the lead-up to ANZAC Day, DEFGLIS Vice President Heidi Rossendell reflects on her path to becoming an ally.

Just over two years ago, I found myself in a meeting room at the ACON in Sydney. The occasion was my first Navy Diversity Reference Group meeting as the recently appointed Deputy Director Navy Diversity and Inclusion.

This meeting was the Diverse Sex Sexuality and Gender meeting, chaired by the advisor at the time, Karen Dwyer.

As I sat quietly in the meeting room, I realised I had no idea about the barriers to inclusion for members in the Navy who identified in the diverse sex, sexuality and gender community. Wanting to understand more, I signed up to Mardi Gras 2019 and shortly after joined the DEFGLIS Executive at the Australian War Memorial to lay a Rainbow Wreath on ANZAC Day.

What I quickly came to understand was that I was “unconsciously incompetent” to the struggle for many LGBTI members to be fully included and valued in our organisation, and that struggle impacted individuals members to be able to fully commit to their role and position. I knew to some extent what that felt like, having joined ADFA in its inaugural year and desperately wanting to fit in. It took so much energy to do this, but my challenges were small compared to the barriers encountered by the Diversity Reference Group members.

I listened to the stories of the reference group members. The Defence organisation, reliant on binary and gendered systems, language and thinking, was causing members of the diverse sex, sexuality and gender community to have to “come out” everyday. In doing so members were assessing the risk as to the response they may receive when introducing their personal pronouns or same sex partner. Health professionals, who despite updated policy, constantly assumed opposite sex attracted partners and indiviudals alignment with their birth assigned sex. Personnel management systems that remain binary in nature and are not able to suitably represent a members sex and/or gender affirmation and identity.

Over the past two years I have made some wonderful friends and learnt so much from the strong, vibrant and creative LGBTI community. I now feel a responsibility to share my knowledge with others to help them better understand the barriers to inclusion. We simply don’t know what we don’t know, and as a straight ally I have a unique opportunity to share this awareness and education with others.

If we are to truly embrace a culture of “inclusion”, we must learn from those who know and have felt “exclusion”. Only then, through respectful curiosity, can we hope to include and value all members in our organisation.

This year I am excited to join continuing Board members Nathan White, Jordan den Dulk, Don Robertson, Bonnie Doyle, Racheal Cosgrove-White and Riley Bradford and give heartfelt thanks to outgoing Board members Karen Dwyer, Connor Haas, Luke Headley and Prudence Hawkins-Griffith. The 2020 AGM also confirmed the appointment of Nathan Howarth to the Board.

I feel very privileged to work with the Board to enhance inclusion, build community and create capability as we continue to advocate for change. I hope I can use my voice as an ally to empower those who have not previously felt heard and I encourage all others to become allies and do the same.  If you have any questions, suggestions or ideas, please email me at

Images courtesy of the Department of Defence and DEFGLIS