Personnel Step Out With Pride


Even camouflaged uniforms could not hide the pride of ADF members who stepped out during the 2024 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

As Defence personnel paraded down Oxford Street, Defence LGBTI Information Service (DEFGLIS) vice-president Flight Lieutenant Nathan Howarth said the camouflage brought good crowd engagement.

“Being able to come here and demonstrate my pride as an openly gay service person and have the Australian public see what I do makes me really proud to be here,” he said.

About 90 ADF, Defence APS and DEFGLIS members participated this year, joined by Assistant Defence Minister Matt Thistlethwaite and Senior Enlisted Adviser to the Chief of the Defence Force Warrant Officer Ken Robertson.

The contingent was accompanied by the ADFA Pipes and Drums, and the Lancer Band of the 1st/15th Royal New South Wales Lancers.

For Able Seaman Jasmine Kaczmarek, attending her first Mardi Gras was a surreal experience.

“I didn’t realise just how big it was and how many people show up, so it’s really cool to see,” she said.

“I love what I do, and to be able to bring together two important things in my life is really cool to me, and it shows the community that Defence is with them.”

Another first-time Mardi Gras attendee, Bombardier Louise Banton transferred from the British Army in 2023, where she was heavily involved with the LGBTQIA+ network.

When she saw the opportunity to attend, she couldn’t wait to jump on board.

“Everyone is amazing and I’m super excited to be here,” she said.

While many of this year’s contingent were newcomers, others had seen Defence grow and mature in its approach to the community.

Marching in her fifth Mardi Gras, Chief Petty Officer Anita van der Meer said with more Defence hierarchy getting on board, participation was getting better every year.

In 1992, Chief Petty Officer van der Meer was threatened with dismissal when she was suspected of being in a same-sex relationship.

When she took her case to the then Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, it was a catalyst for then prime minister Paul Keating to lift the ban on openly gay and lesbian personnel.

Her story, along with her service cap and belt, are on display in the Qtopia Queer History and Culture Museum at the old Darlinghurst police station.

“It was so long ago but my story has only been coming out in the last few years, so I’m happy to share it with people,” she said.

“Since then I’ve been serving as a gay girl in Defence and loving it. In the end, I just want to be able to come to work and work.”

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