Conservative Daily Telegraph columnist Miranda Devine has slammed the Australian Defence Force for allowing uniformed personnel to march in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.
Writing that marching in uniform is a violation of rules against the politicisation of the ADF, Devine slammed the move as part of a “radical social engineering experiment” started by “diversity-mad former Army Chief David Morrison”.
Devine said this year's Mardi Gras was dedicated to pushing a marriage equality agenda, and noted that several floats included protests over refugee detention, claiming that politicians who opposed same-sex marriage were vilified.
Military historian Noah Riseman says that the ADF was aware of political issues, but determined several years ago that "Mardi Gras itself is not political, but there are political issues presented at Mardi Gras."
“Defence instructions for those marching at Mardi Gras are always very clear that members are not to be photographed in uniform with any of the various political causes,” he said.
Critics have pointed out that Devine’s 818-word column contains several false or misleading statements.
Ms Devine said the ADF was “wedged” between the official Australians for Equality float and the City of Sydney’s ‘Say Yes to Love Float’ – both of which were advocating for marriage equality.
In reality, the Mardi Gras run-sheet shows the ADF was between the ANZ Bank’s float and ‘Rainbow Babies’.
Ms Devine’s chief complaint was about the release of an Army pin, “wrapped in the rainbow colours of the same-sex marriage campaign”.
The rainbow flag actually dates back to San Francisco in the 1970s, long before Australia’s contemporary same-sex marriage push.
"No pin for any other cause is ever allowed," she wrote, although a similar pin was designed in 2011 to recognise Indigenous service.
According to Devine, use of the rainbow colours is “a blatantly political symbol, disrespecting the Anzac spirit in order to make a contentious political point”.
LGBT+ Anzac historian Yorick Smaal says it's wrong to suggest Anzacs were stereotypically straight and would have all been offended by the gesture — there’s evidence of LGBT+ service dating right back the early decades of Australia’s history.
“We had cases of homosexuals really falling in love,” one Australian former-POW told researchers after World War II.
Smaal blames Ms Devine for politicisation, focusing on the ADF rather than other participating organisations.
“Sending people to die and fight in wars is an overtly political act – as is singling out the ADF in order to valorise myths of ANZAC and a certain kind of nationhood,” he says.
Other public institutions officially represented in the 2017 parade included the NSW Police Force, the Australian Federal Police, the Rural Fire Service, the State Emergency Service, the Reserve Bank, the Department of Foreign Affairs and several other agencies.
The Labor Party, the Greens and the Liberal party were also represented.
Shirleene Robinson, a historian with Macquarie University, says that marching in uniform was an important way of acknowledging historic LGBT+ service.
“Generations of LGBTI service personnel from the past had to conceal their sexuality or gender identity and, as result, have been largely written out of our understanding of Australia's military history,” she says.
“It is also an important way for current serving personnel to show their pride in being both LGBTI and members of the ADF - something that has only been possible recently in historical terms.”
LGBT+ defence force personnel have only been able to serve openly since the Keating government pushed the reform on the ADF in 1992 – prior to that they were forcibly discharged.
“The forces have at certain times, and in certain places, gone to extraordinary lengths to identify and weed-out queer personnel,” Yorick Smaal says.
“These men and women were prosecuted, punished, humiliated, discharged and vilified only for their personal behaviours and identities.”
In the 1980s, former gay servicemen were even prevented from laying a wreath on ANZAC day.
Allowing personnel to march in uniform was the least the ADF could do, says fellow historian Graham Willett, “after treating service-people so appallingly for decades.”
Miranda Devine argued that the theme of ‘Equality’ meant that ADF participation was particularly questionable – “never has the Mardi Gras parade been more political,” she wrote.
But that’s also highly debatable, Shirleene Robinson says.
The original Mardi Gras in 1978 resulted in 53 arrests, with following years focusing on solidarity for those affected by the HIV/AIDS crisis, she says.
“To say it has never been more political today ignores its rich history,” Robinson says.
But for Devine, Mardi Gras participation remains part of a dangerous push to make the ADF more ‘politically correct’ – a push which is destroying morale according to the columnist.
“The Army is engaged in a radical social engineering experiment,” Devine wrote.
“Rejecting what it regards as an outdated male Anglo culture and segregating its troops according to ethnic, religious, sexual and gender identities which are accorded special privileges as victim groups, in the name of diversity.”
Yorick Smaal sees things differently.
“The ADF has a darker history that needs to be acknowledged and recognised,” he told SBS, pointing to endemic sexual assault allegations.
“It is an organisation that has traditionally excluded women and attempted to exclude sexual minorities. Individual and institutional responses – or failings – have often privileged white heterosexual men in certain positions of authority.”
Australian Defence Department Statement
Following the publication of this article, the ADF provided SBS Sexuality with a general statement:
In recent years the Australian Defence Force has made significant efforts to improve its culture.
An inclusive culture is the only way to ensure that the detrimental behaviour of the past cannot systemically take hold again.
It is also about ensuring all personnel are supported and able to perform at their best, regardless of gender, race or sexual identity.
Inclusion is a critical issue as our combat capability is built upon team cohesion and respect.
An inclusive culture enhances these key enablers and promotes a broader range of perspectives to enhance our operational planning and activities.
It also helps to ensure Defence is more representative of the community it serves.