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“It is an immense honour to lay rainbow wreaths, to commemorate the complete spectrum of Australians who have served with pride and distinction and to pay respects to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom that we enjoy today.”
Louis Hanson

24 Apr 2018 - 1:09 PM  UPDATED 24 Apr 2018 - 1:10 PM

Members of the Defence Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Information Service (DEFGLIS) will lay rainbow wreaths around the country this Anzac Day, in honour of LGBTI service personnel, past and present.

The practice of laying the rainbow wreath was renewed in 2015, and has since become an annual tradition for the organisation. “As the association that supports and represents current and former LGBTI service personnel and their families, DEFGLIS was urged by veterans to recognise LGBTI service who were Australian diggers,” a spokesperson for DEFGLIS tells SBS.

“The responsibility to commemorate the service of all Australians who served,” DEFGLIS say, “and pay tribute to LGBTI personnel who fought alongside their brothers and sisters in arms is a solemn duty that DEFGLIS members are proud to undertake each year.”

For Steven Bruni, these moments are important. Bruni enlisted into the military in 2012 as a Maritime Logistics Chef, completing his apprenticeship and then requesting an out of category posting to Public Relations Sailor.

“In these places, I’ve been proudly ‘different’ as a gay man and fought for equality and respect, both for others and myself,” he notes. “Fighting for equality and shining a light wherever I saw it was needed, for many who had, until that point, not felt safe to be their authentic self.”

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He finishing full time service last year, and is now a reservist and a recent finalist for Mr Gay Pride Australia.

“It is an immense honour to lay rainbow wreaths,” DEFGLIS continues, “to commemorate the complete spectrum of Australians who have served with pride and distinction and to pay respects to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom that we enjoy today.”

It is important to DEFGLIS that the rainbow wreath represents all who served, as well as LGBTI service personnel; the wreath is inclusive of every soldier and military personnel who fought, and continues to fight, for our country. “Rainbow wreaths signal that the sacrifice of LGBTI personnel is a part of Anzac Day commemorations and that the community is welcome to pay tribute alongside all Australians."

For the Department of Defence, acknowledging diversity amongst service personnel and establishing an all-inclusive workforce are important factors in ensuring the Defence’s capability.

“The future success of Defence’s capability, and ultimately our nation’s security,” a Defence spokesperson tells SBS, “is reliant on our ability to attract and retain the best possible talent regardless of gender, race, religion, disability or sexual orientation.”

They continue: “Anzac Day is a day on which we reflect on the sacrifice of those who have died in war. It also presents an opportunity to acknowledge the valuable operational contribution of all Australian Defence Force members past and present.”

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"I want to take real pride. I want to feel a sense of belonging with others, but I don’t feel that this can be meaningfully achieved by turning the reality of a bloody loss into the fiction of Aussie victory. We can commemorate better."

In 1982, the Gay Ex-Services Association was unable to lay their wreath, containing the quote for ‘all brothers and sisters who died during the wars’, by Bruce Ruxton, head of the Victorian Returned Serviceman’s League. For many, this will remain a poignant moment in time.

But we came a long way in 2017, with postal surveys and campaigns establishing an important nationwide dialogue concerning LGBTI equality.

Considering that LGBTI service personnel have historically been erased throughout history, it seems important, now more than ever, to represent all facets of the military in 2018. A small gesture to some, the laying of the rainbow wreath arguably symbolises a re-writing of the past and an acknowledgment of the present.

“We were all born and will die the same way,” Bruni notes, “and in between our journey of life, we all feel the same joys, pains [and] sorrows.”

DEFGLIS will lay rainbow wreaths in most capital cities across Australia including Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, and Perth this Anzac Day.

DEFGLIS is an independent charity that is separate to the Department of Defence. For more information on DEFGLIS and the wreath laying ceremonies this Anzac Day, head over to their website.

Louis Hanson is a writer and activist currently in Sydney. Check out his work here or on Instagram.