Tuesday 17 December 2013 by Vick Gwyn. No comments
Collection, LGBTI, DEFGLIS, Mardi Gras

 

In December 2012, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) announced that for the very first time, ADF members would be allowed to march in uniform at Sydney’s Mardi Gras parade in 2013. This momentous announcement coincided with the ADF’s 20th anniversary of the removal of the ban on homosexuals serving in the armed forces. The march would also fall on the 35th anniversary of the parade, making the inaugural uniformed march all the more historic.

 Standard bearers of the RAAF and Army contingents of the inaugural uniformed ADF Mardi Gras Parade.Standard bearers of the RAAF and Army contingents of the inaugural uniformed ADF Mardi Gras Parade.

 

To document this significant event in the history of the ADF, the Memorial sent me to photograph the contingent and conduct oral history interviews with some of the participants. I work as an Assistant Curator of Photographs and have undertaken oral history interviews previously for the Memorial, and I was excited at the prospect of documenting something that had not been recorded in our collection before. 120 ADF members from Army, Air Force and Navy marched in uniform and were supported by a contingent from DEFGLIS, the Defence Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Information Service. Below are my reflections on my experience documenting the parade.

 Members of the RAAF contingent of the inaugural uniformed ADF march in the Sydney Mardi Gras.Members of the RAAF contingent of the inaugural uniformed ADF march in the Sydney Mardi Gras.

 

Several months on from the parade, I still can’t quite believe that I was able to be a part of an event that meant so much to so many people, and would become one of the highlights of my experience working at the Memorial. I arrived at HMAS Kuttabul at Garden Island just after 4.00pm on Saturday 2nd March. It was only three and a half hours before the parade would begin and I was huddling from a rain squall in a guard office with a crew from SBS (also documenting the parade), waiting for our contact to take us through to meet the contingent who would march.

 

I hit the ground running taking photos of the final drill practice and trying to coax some laughs from the contingent with cheesy jokes while I asked them to strike a pose. All too soon we were boarding the buses for the trip to Oxford Street, where the parade would take place and the nerves would set in.

 Army contingent of the inaugural uniformed ADFmarch in the Sydney Mardi Gras, prior to the march.Army contingent of the inaugural uniformed ADFmarch in the Sydney Mardi Gras, prior to the march.

 

Following the ADF contingent throughout the parade and photographing their experience, it was hard not to get swept along in the excitement of the moment as the crowds cheered wildly when the contingent went past. This was my first Mardi Gras experience and was certainly one that I won’t forget.  During my time with the contingent, brief though it was, I was struck by the kindness and generosity of the ADF personnel and their partners, friends and family that were involved with the march. Though we were only briefly introduced the afternoon of the march, many took me under their wing, and took time out of their own personal celebration to sit and talk with me – and make sure I had survived the march myself.

 Members of the Defence Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Information Service (DEFGLIS).Members of the Defence Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Information Service (DEFGLIS).

 

I interviewed six people in total, from all arms of the defence force. Each of them spoke of the same recurring themes in their interviews:

 

  • The ADF has come a long way as an organisation in accepting and supporting LGBTI people, particularly within the last 10 years. This has been seen in the change of language use, for example, using “gay” in a derogatory way has lessened.
  • All interviewees were proud of being LGBTI, but also very proud of being part of the ADF and saw marching at Mardi Gras in uniform as a way to show people that being LGBTI is accepted in the ADF.
  • They all spoke of the ADF as an equal opportunity employer
  • The march was exciting but also nerve wracking!  
  • This is one step towards more positive changes for the LGBTI community in the ADF and the wider community.

 Air Commodore Tracy Smart (RAAF) leads the uniformed Australian Defence Force contingent in the 2013 Mardi Gras.Air Commodore Tracy Smart (RAAF) leads the uniformed Australian Defence Force contingent in the 2013 Mardi Gras.

 

One memory that will stay with me from my experience, was the moment the ADF and DEFGLIS contingents passed the last Mardi Gras grandstand, and on finishing their march, erupted into spontaneous hugs, smiles and laughter at what was the culmination of several months planning and a milestone achieved for the Australian’ Defence Forces LGBTI community.

 

Make sure you look out for the uniformed ADF and DEFGLIS contingents in next year’s Mardi Gras parade as they continue this new tradition.

 

Thirty-three photographs from the parade have been accessioned into the Memorial’s National Collection along with six oral histories. Images from the parade can be seen here.

 

For more information on DEFGLIS click here.