We sometimes place small data files called cookies on your device, which enable this website to work properly and remember your preferences. You can delete all cookies already on your device and you can set most browsers to prevent them from being placed, however some functionalities may not work.

Honouring all our diggers: why we lay rainbow wreaths

2017 04 24 BushRainbow

On Anzac Day, Australians honour the sacrifice of all those who have served to defend the country in war and peace. It is a special day on the Australian calendar where everyone has the opportunity to honour and remember a person, a unit or any group of people who served their country.

Anzac commemorations have evolved over the past hundred years, reflecting the changing nature of Australian society. The post-Vietnam era, in particular, has seen those attending events embrace multiculturalism, with different communities within Australia developing their own traditions and practices to honour their families’ and friends’ contributions to our nation.

Following representations and urging from LGBTI ex-service personnel, DEFGLIS renewed the practice of wreath-laying in 2015.

Most Australians would conceive of the archetypal Anzac as a bronzed, white male larrikin who had no qualms mocking authority, facing impossible odds on the battlefield and standing up for his mates. While we maintain justifiable pride in this figure of legend, historians have pointed out that Anzacs came from across society and included members with a range of backgrounds such as Chinese, Aboriginal, Eastern European, Jewish, or Pacific Islander. We should not overlook the contribution of any individual or group who served.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander commemorative practices at sites such as the Redfern Coloured Diggers march bring together traditional tropes such as The Last Post, as well as Indigenous practices such as a smoking ceremony and didgeridoo performances. Vietnamese Australians – some of them veterans of the Vietnam war – often march alongside the Australian and New Zealand contingents at Anzac Day events, and Jewish Australians – who had higher than average representation in First World War – conduct an annual commemoration and wreath-laying.

2017 04 25 Canberra1web

Over the years, it has been the malleability of Anzac Day that has led different groups to seek inclusion in the Anzac mythology because of the distinct association it has with what it means to be Australian. Seeking membership in the Anzac legend has not always been easy because it has required space in people’s hearts and minds to recognise the diversity of the original Anzacs, as well as the growing diversity of the current Australian Defence Force.

In the Second World War and more recent conflicts, we have seen an even greater diversity of service members; the growing number of women is one such example. Female veterans told a recent government forum that they did not feel that they received recognition for their service, prompting Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Dan Tehan to call for greater understanding of the service and sacrifice of Australia’s female veterans. “Many of our female veterans observed that when they wore their medals in public many people assumed they were wearing the medals of their father or grandfather,” said Teehan

An inclusive approach — that doesn’t mandate invisibility of certain veterans — honours the rich diversity of veterans that should stand alongside the stereotypical Anzac hero in the minds of the public. Invisibility is damaging, because Anzacs have always come from all walks of life, and it is a disservice to their memory to pretend that they were all one and the same. Sentiments to make LGBTI people invisible have caused substantial damage having driven people out of families, out of textbooks, out of history and out of Defence. Making people invisible is the polar opposite of being more inclusive.

2017 04 25 Sydney

Commemoration of LGBTI service personnel was a difficult journey with some seeking to make that service invisible. Representatives from Gay Ex-Services Association were prevented from placing a wreath at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance during the public wreath-laying on Anzac Day in 1982. The card accompanying the wreath read: “For all our brothers and sisters who died during the wars.” The ex-servicemen were led away by police that year — but thankfully never again.

Various associations that help honour the many different groups of personnel that have served our nation and remember their fallen members. As the association representing LGBTI service personnel and their families, DEFGLIS lays rainbow wreaths on Anzac Day to pay respects to all who served, past and present, and to honour with pride the LGBTI service personnel among them. Following representations and urging from LGBTI ex-service personnel, DEFGLIS renewed the practice of wreath-laying in 2015. As many associations decorate their wreaths with symbols of those who served, rainbow flowers adorn our wreaths to represent the diversity of those who served.

DEFGLIS participates in Anzac Day because this day is important to all Australians. It is a day where we can celebrate our shared values as Australians and be proud of who we are. Wreath-laying is an activity that seeks to recognise all who served. We do not know who they all were, but they don’t deserve to be forgotten. The rainbow wreaths placed by DEFGLIS incorporate respectful commemoration of LGBTI personnel who served, and recognition about the effects that the wars had on their families.

2017 04 25 Brisbane

2017 04 25 Melbourne

2017 04 25 Townsville2

Images are (c) Copyright DEFGLIS 2017. All rights reserved.  From top: Canberra wreath, Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Townsville.

About the Author
Author: Vince Chong
Vince is the President of DEFGLIS. He is a project manager and an electronics engineer.
Also written by this author:

2016 05 10 ReflectionsThumb

StoreGraphic2

Latest News

LGBTI DV Awareness Day launches 28 May 2020

DEFGLIS Treasurer Don Robertson discusses active bystander behaviour and support for domestic & family violence victims - along with the launch of LGBTI DV Awareness Day with DVConnect Director Ben Bjarnesen DEFGLIS...

Read more

DEFGLIS Board Update: May 2020

DEFGLIS is providing advice on transgender and gender diverse policies, and seeking out opportunities for networking in the wake of COVID-19. This update provides a snapshot of the key outcomes...

Read more

Rainbow cake and conversations: 30 year IDAHOBIT milestone celebrated globally

DEFGLIS Events Director Bonnie Doyle discusses why 30 years on, IDAHOBIT is such an important day for our community. I’m at a brand new workplace this year and I raised the...

Read more

Rainbow wreath shines through coronavirus affected Anzac Day service at the Australian War Memorial

A rainbow wreath ceremony has been held at the Australian War Memorial, and incorporated into the Australian War Memorial’s national service during coronavirus affected Anzac Day services. DEFGLIS President Nathan...

Read more

Experience in management, communication or support?

Become a volunteer