This is just one of several statements proffered by a Facebook page created last year by individuals serving in the Australian Defence Force (ADF). The Facebook page was designed to ‘out’ and vilify gay men serving in the military and the names of those who were suspected to be gay were listed on the front page.
Gay men have been able to serve openly in the military since 1992. In 2009, following amendments to Federal de-facto laws, same-sex partners of those serving in the defence forces have been entitled to access veterans’ benefits. Despite significant legislative and policy reforms, cultural attitudes that underpin military service still foster some elements of intolerance.
For most of us in Australia, when we think of the military, an image of an ANZAC soldier is likely to spring to mind. Military culture for the most part is often imagined in masculine terms. This is true for the most part, given that only men are able to serve in combative roles in Australia.
However, our military imaginations are not only coloured in gendered terms. Heterosexuality becomes the privileged reference point for defining the kinds “mateship” bonds shared amongst the men who serve. While mateship is understood to be foundational to our national identity, can we really claim mateship is being demonstrated when defence personnel exclude and vilify sexual and gender minorities?
Opponents to having gay men serve openly in the military often recite the polemic that gay men lack masculine prowess or that the “unruly” desire to sexualise their other male colleagues would undermine military discipline. Such an argument, however, seems counterintuitive. If the military as an institution seeks to foster strict discipline, surely the ability to exercise self-control would be of paramount importance? Logically then, whether you are or are not attracted to someone, would be of no relevance if all parties were displaying the level of professional discipline expected in the military. Merit, not sexuality or gender, should be determinative this.
Unfortunately when people choose to serve openly, they now invite harassment and vilification, as the Facebook page highlights. While we may cite the adage, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”, speech does much more than simply state things – it ‘does’ things to us.
Facebook comments that define being gay as a “filthy lifestyle decision”, that are subsequently ‘liked’ by others on the page for example, create an atmosphere where people are coerced into managing who they are. Specifically, this kind of language can create long lasting psychological harm, as individuals internalise the belief that their desire or sexuality is shameful or immoral.
Even where there is no physical violence or overt harassment, derogatory language, when widely circulated, can create spaces where individuals are forced to manage how they express their sexual identity for fear of being ‘outed’.
While the veracity of all these claims must be investigated, this case exemplifies the need for comprehensive Federal anti-discrimination legislation to protect sex, sexuality and gender diverse people. While all the Australian States and Territories have anti-discrimination laws, Federal bodies, such as the ADF are not bound to them. An absence of legislative protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in Commonwealth legislation, effectively immunises public authorities from accountability to some principles of non-discrimination. No public institution is above the law, and the law ought to reflect that discrimination on identity grounds is simply unacceptable.
We often pay lip service to claim that Australia is the nation of a “fair go” and yet in practice we allow discrimination to continue. As Martin Luther King Jr opined famously back in the 1960s, let us judge people “not by the colour of their skin…but by the content of their character”, or in this case their choice of partner.
After all, with incidents like this not isolated to the military, we have to wonder when will it finally be okay to be gay?