Sexual orientation and the Australian Defence Force

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Members of the Australian Army marching in the 2013 Sydney Mardi Gras

Australia allows homosexuals to serve openly (since 1992, see LGBT rights in Australia). The Commonwealth of Australia policies are to permit gay men and lesbians to serve openly.[1] The Cabinet took advice from a special Caucus Committee chaired by Senator Terry Aulich. Since 1 January 2009 same-sex couples have had the same access to military retirement pensions and superannuation as opposite-sex couples.

Australia also permits trans people to serve openly. Lieutenant Colonel Cate McGregor is the most senior trans person in the army.[2]

Sexual Orientation[edit]

Prior studies, eighteen in-depth interviews with informed military and non-military observers and other data have found that the lifting of the ban on gay service has not led to any identifiable negative effects on troop morale, combat effectiveness, recruitment and retention or other measures of military performance. Furthermore, available evidence suggests that policy changes associated with the lifting of the ban may have contributed to improvements in productivity and working environments for service members. Key findings include:

  • Senior officials, commanders, and military scholars within the Australian Defence Force (ADF) consistently appraise the lifting of the ban as a successful policy change that has contributed to greater equity and effective working relationships within the ranks. Prior to the lifting of the ban, ADF service chief argued that allowing homosexuals to serve openly would jeopardize recruitment, troop cohesion and combat effectiveness while also spreading AIDS and encouraging predatory behaviour.
  • While the lifting of the ban was not immediately followed by large numbers of personnel declaring their sexual-orientation, by the late 1990s significant numbers of officers and enlisted personnel had successfully and largely uneventfully come out to their peers. Recruitment and retention rates have not suffered as a result of the policy change. As Commodore R. W. Gates of the Royal Australian Navy states in the report, “There was no great peak...where people walked out, and there was no great dip in recruiting. It really was a non-event.”
  • Self-identified gay soldiers, officers, and commanders describe good working relationships in an environment that emphasizes capable and competent job performance under uniform rules of conduct for all personnel. Gay soldiers and commanders have successfully served in recent active deployments in East Timor. Complaints regarding sexual orientation issues comprise less than 5% of the total complaints received by the ADF of incidents of sexual harassment, bullying, and other forms of sexual misconduct. Of 1,400 calls received by an anonymous “Advice Line” maintained by the ADF to help personnel and commanders manage potential misconduct issues since this service was initiated in August 1998, 17 (1.21 percent) have related to sexual orientation issues.
  • Current debates in Australia related to the policy change are now focused on extending equal benefits to the partners of gay servicemembers, rather than on the policy itself. To the degree that harassment issues continue to exist in the Australian Forces, most observers believe that problems faced by women soldiers are more serious than those faced by gay personnel.[3]


The DEFGLIS (Defence Force Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Intersex Information Service) is an association that supports and represents Australian Defence Force LGBTI personnel and their families. DEFGLIS aims to SUPPORT personnel through professional networking and peer support, STRENGTHEN Defence capability through greater inclusion of LGBTI people, and to EDUCATE Defence about LGBTI matters.

DEFGLIS was founded in 1992 by Petty Officer Stuart O'Brien.[citation needed]


Further reading[edit]

  • Goldberg, Suzanne B. "Open Service and Our Allies: A Report on the Inclusion of Openly Gay and Lesbian Servicemembers in U.S. Allies' Armed Forces," William & Mary Journal of Women & Law (2011) v 17 pp 547-90 online