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Australian Defence Force Chaplain (Wing Commander) Stephane Sarazin reflected on the Pride in Practice conference held last year, and what might be done about tensions between pride and religion.

Mr Anthony Veen-Brown is with Ambassadors and Bridge Builders International (ABBI) and presented a session called When Sexuality and Religion Collide.

Venn-Brown said that the current trend in Australia and most countries is an emerging gap between LGBTI people and those who have religious beliefs.

Both groups view each other in negative paradigms: as the enemy, through judgement and stereotyping, accusations, misinformation, conspiracy theories, single-sided communication, conflicts on social media, and attacks.

“As organisations and individuals we have to create and must facilitate a new space for discussion and discovery,” said Venn-Brown.

He said that following principles should form part of a new conversation between the two groups with the view to closing the emerging gap:

  • Treat each other respectfully
  • Willingness to engage in meaningful dialogue
  • Act with integrity
  • Understand that both groups are on a journey of discovery
  • Bring about resolution without pre-conceived agendas
  • Embracing diversity and acceptance

“The most important thing is that we can’t discuss each other's issues without each other being present,” he said.

The Diversity Acceptance Continuum was presented to illustrate the discovery path for every individual, which can slide one way or the other depending on the degree of acceptance of diversity at a particular moment in time. 

Venn-Brown emphasised that both LGBTI people and those from religious backgrounds are on a long journey and, even if we don’t agree where one might be on this journey we need to respect where a person is and simply be there with them.

The continuum is gradual and ranges from hatred through to Advocacy:

Hatred – Dislike – Discomfort – Tolerance – Acceptance – Affirmation – Advocacy.  

He highlighted that all organisations are values based, and went on to say that it is important for to recognise the nature of the work environment and where organisation culture sits on the Diversity Acceptance Continuum.

Such analysis provides an ability for groups and organisations to evaluate how well they accept diversity and assess whether acceptance is aligned with where they would like to be. 

Both groups should seek opportunities for meaningful engagement face-to-face, into a genuine, respectful and honest conversation about their journey, issues and concerns.

Angry posts on Twitter or Facebook rarely help to promote understanding nor do they contribute to a meaningful discourse that solves concerns or issues.

There is no need to agree, but there is a need to enter into a respectful dialogue.

A powerful tool that all humans possess is the one of storytelling which can help promote understanding between groups of people who don’t agree.

Venn-Brown observed that an LGBTI person that has a faith background might be at greater risk of a number or social problems compared to one without faith.

These elevated risks include:

  • suicide,
  • mental health issues,
  • self-destructive behaviours,
  • obsessive behaviours and addictions,
  • fragmentation of self,
  • going back into ‘the closet’ which can cause friction with the rest of the community,
  • faith identification and sexual orientation/gender identity identification may be in a constant state of flux, creating a constant source of internal tension,
  • HIV and STI infections due to negative behaviour patterns, and
  • discrimination from both multiple groups: faith groups (because of who they are), the non-LGBTI community (fear of coming out), and LGBTI community (because of their faith). 

Venn-Brown argued that more research should be conducted to address the delivery of services to LGBTI people of faith.

His observations are that most of the time, faith and non-faith based support services are inadequate and don’t help to resolve the core needs or issues of an LGBTI person of faith. 

Distress caused by battling identification with faith and sexual orientation/gender identity might emerge.

When a person works within an environment that is closer towards the hatred end of the Diversity Acceptance Continuum, this distress can be exacerbated.

 

Implications for Defence


 

Defence is first and foremost an equal employer for all Australians – which includes the entire spectrum of the diverse Australian community.

Opportunities for all sectors of the Australian population is essential to future proof our Navy, Army and Air Force.

Deloitte offered an observation that a diverse workforce is a company’s lifeblood, and diverse perspectives and approaches are the best means of solving complex and challenging business issues.  

One key factor is that we do not exclude but include everyone in everything we do and most importantly through ensuring diversity at the decision-making boards and committees. 

The 2015 AWEI Survey Analysis showed that 83% of respondents expected Senior Leaders to take the lead on communication about behavioural changes.

As an officer in the Air Force, I do not seek to shape Defence through my personal views, but I instead adhere to the guidelines and values of the organisation and my respective service. I strive to obtain professional mastery in all that I do.

This approach should be quintessential for anyone serving and wanting to serve in Defence, and is described further in the Leadership Companion, ADDP 00.6 – Leadership in the Australia Defence Force, Chapters 8 and 9

As a chaplain, I am called to exercise ministry and my commission in a decent, honourable, truthful and professional manner, congruent with the rules, regulations and values of Defence and the standards of my endorsing faith group; respecting the dignity of each person and serving all without discrimination. (The Royal Australia Air Force - Statement of Expectations of the Air Force Chaplain Branch 2015 - document is under final review with DGCHAP-AF).   

Challenges and discovery are essential parts of the human story. Therefore, we should strive for inclusion in all that we do and be mindful of that others may not be able to journey all the way towards the inclusion advocacy end of the Diversity Acceptance Continuum.   

With in Defence we can move towards greater inclusion through training, education and personal development. These initiatives help to grow the skills, knowledge, attitudes and attributes necessary for more cohesive teams who understand each other, and the effective discharge of all military duties. 

 

Concluding Thoughts


 

The Diversity Acceptance Continuum is a key of the puzzle in the ongoing conversation about diversity within Defence.    

Employers, leaders, and chaplains should be mindful of what makes people diverse: faith and cultural backgrounds, family needs, restrictions on work hours, etc.

The diversity of the workforce should influence how we treat others at work and when planning social activities. 

A ‘mindful leader’ needs to create inclusive environments, cultivate belonging and uniqueness, empower direct reports, practice humility, demonstrate courage and integrity, and be accountable and responsible for what happens under their leadership. 

Inclusion means we should focus on people: their abilities, potentials, and talents.   

As identified in Pathway to Change – leaders and care providers should equally ascribe to the cultural intent - ‘We are trusted to defend, proven to deliver and respectful always’. 

 

Photo by Department of Defence

About the Author
Author: stephane sarazin

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