Navy leads the way at Mardi Gras

Published on WO Stuart O'Brien (author), ABIS Jake Badior (photographer)

Location(s): Sydney, NSW

The Royal Australian Navy division leads the Australian Defence Force contingent in the 2014 Sydney Mardi Gras parade.

 (photo: ABIS Jake Badior)
The Royal Australian Navy division leads the Australian Defence Force contingent in the 2014 Sydney Mardi Gras parade.

The Defence contingent in the 2014 Mardi Gras parade, led by Captain (CAPT) Christine Clarke, RAN, Director of Navy People Policy, took to the streets of Sydney to participate in the iconic festival. CAPT Clarke, a strong supporter of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex (LGBTI) community, has participated since 2008 and last year led the first official Navy contingent.

“I am an ally and I am thrilled to see the courage of allies from the Defence Force who are here to support their LGBTI mates and be a part of this community festival. They come not knowing what to expect, but are soon absorbed in the atmosphere and excitement. It is impossible not to be swept up by the overwhelming support and deafening roar from the crowd,” said CAPT Clarke.

Mardi Gras allows LGBTI people to express themselves in a manner that represents who they are, and for the Australian Defence Force members participating, this means marching in a formed body accompanied by drum corps, as military protocol and traditions dictate.

Official participation in Mardi Gras is an important public acknowledgement of the service of LGBTI men and women in the Australian Defence Force.

Warrant Officer Stuart O’Brien said he felt it was important to set the example, “when I think about why I personally march, it’s very simple - to show to the wider community how proud I am to serve in the Australian Defence Force,” he said.

“As a leader I feel it’s important to lead from the front and by stepping out, I show others that is okay to be themselves, to acknowledge who they are so they can perform to the best of their ability - without worrying about their sexual orientation, gender identity, or intersex status.”

For the second year, volunteers from the Australian Defence Force marched smartly up Oxford Street in uniform; accompanied by the Australian Defence Force Academy Drum Corps. The uniformed personnel from Navy, Army and Air Force were joined by a contingent of ex-Defence personnel, public servants, families and friends involved in the Australian Defence Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Information Service known as DEFGLIS.   

The Australian Defence Force contingent before the start of the 2014 Sydney Mardi Gras parade.

The Australian Defence Force contingent before the start of the 2014 Sydney Mardi Gras parade.

One of those marching was Leading Seaman (LS) William Gray Carroll and 2014 marks his sixth Mardi Gras parade. This year had special significance for him though, as he carried the Navy banner with his partner, a member of DEFGLIS. He says DEFGLIS plays an important role in supporting the LGBTI community.

“Last year my partner didn’t have the confidence to participate, but watched the parade. This year he was up front carrying the banner with me, which is testament to the mateship and support DEFGLIS provides to the Defence LGBTI community.”

2013 was the first year that Defence members took part in the Mardi Gras parade in uniform. LS Carroll said it was a very proud moment.

“Last year as we reached the end of the parade route, I saw three older gentlemen standing on the side of the road wearing their service medals and saluting the ADF contingent. As we marched past I could see tears in their eyes. It really shook me to see ex-servicemen so moved by how far we have come. It’s something I will never forget.”

The Australian Defence Force marched in the ‘Protect and Defence’ section of the parade alongside other uniformed government organisations, such as the Australian Federal Police, New South Wales Police, Ambulance, Fire Protection and State Emergency Services.

Imagery is available on the Australian Defence Image Library at http://images.defence.gov.au/S20140461.