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20th anniversary of removal of gay ban

20 years ago, gays and lesbians in the Australian Defence Force served under constant threat of being discharged if their sexual orientation was discovered. 24 November 2012 was the 20th anniversary of the removal of the policy preventing gay and lesbian members from serving.

On Saturday 24 Nov 1992, the then Prime Minister Paul Keating announced that the policy preventing gays and lesbians from serving in the Australian Defence Force had been rescinded.

The Chief of the Defence Force, General David Hurley said the decision to remove the ban marked an important step in the evolution of the ADF’s diversity policies and practices.

“Diversity is an asset and I am proud of the changes which have occurred within the Australian Defence Force over the past 20 years. 

“It is important to give all ADF members the same access to the range of service benefits regardless of their sexual orientation or gender,” said General Hurley.

The ADF is working on a number of new initiatives including an Ambassador Network and a Diversity Strategy to further enhance and support the ADF workforce.  In addition Air Force has recently introduced a Diversity Handbook for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual members, and Defence will look to roll this out to the rest of the organisation.

“My goal is for the Australian Defence Force to be recognised as a just, inclusive and fair minded organisation that reflects the community it serves.

“We value our people and aim to support, enable and encourage everyone to achieve a rewarding and enduring military career,” said General Hurley.

In the preceding years before the decision to remove the ban, Anita Van Der Meer, a junior sailor, was reported by one of her peers as being involved in a same-sex relationship. The navy subsequently threatened her with discharge for being a lesbian. 

Van Der Meer brought a complaint against the Australian Defence Force to the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, an organisation outside of the military created by Parliament in 1986. 

The Commission did not have the authority to lift the ban itself but, as a result of Van Der Meer’s complaint, it put pressure on the government to do so. Veterans groups, however, such as the Returned & Services League and the Armed Forces Federation of Australia, strongly opposed the proposal to lift the ban. 

Many servicemembers within the military protested as well; surveys done during this time indicated at one point that approximately eighty percent of servicemembers opposed lifting the ban. Nonetheless, the Cabinet, after much debate, lifted the ban in November 1992.

Original Source: [Suzanne B. Goldberg, 2011, Open Service and Our Allies: A Report on the Inclusion of Openly Gay and Lesbian Servicemembers in U.S. Allies' Armed Forces]