Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance cancels rainbow light plan, citing threats and abuse

Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance has cancelled plans to illuminate the site in rainbow colours, citing “sustained abuse” and threats directed at its staff.

Key points:

  • A rainbow light plan was set to mark the opening of an exhibition about those LGBTQI+ people who served
  • Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance’s chief executive says some staff experienced abuse and threats over the plan
  • The lights have been cancelled “in the interests of minimising harm” but the exhibition and a service are going ahead

The rainbow plan for Sunday night was set to coincide with the opening of a new exhibition inside the Shrine, called Defending with Pride: Stories of LGBTQ+ Service.

It is an exhibition that charts the history of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in Australia’s armed forces.

The exhibition and a Last Post service are still going ahead from Sunday, however, Shrine of Remembrance chief executive Dean Lee confirmed the rainbow lighting would not.

“Over several days, our staff have received — and been subject to — sustained abuse and, in some cases, threats,” he said in a statement.

“We have seen something of what members of the LGBTIQ+ community experience every day. It is hateful.”

Some social media activity had suggested there could be a protest against the lights taking place on Sunday afternoon.

The Shrine was the site of violent scenes in September, when anti-lockdown protesters were involved in a tense stand-off with police.

“In the interests of minimising harm, we have given this matter careful consideration and sought the guidance of the Shrine’s partners and friends, including veteran associations, representatives of the LGBTIQ+ veteran community and the Victorian government,” Mr Lee said.

“The stories we seek to tell. The service we seek to honour. These will be told. The brave lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender diverse and queer people in the armed forces will be honoured.”

The move to light up the Shrine attracted some backlash from conservative commentators, who expressed concern at the “politicisation” of the site. Some veterans were also opposed to the move.

Mr Lee pointed to the recent illumination of the building to remember assassinated former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe when defending the decision during the week.

It has also been lit up in honour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and to remember the police officers killed in the 2020 Eastern Freeway crash tragedy.

Exhibition still going ahead

Questioned hours before the Shrine confirmed the news, state government minister Steve Dimopoulos said: “That is a matter for them [the Shrine]. I’m not going to comment on that.”

“Other than to say to you, not only as a gay man but as a Victorian, the fact that there will be an exhibition acknowledging the contribution of LGBTIQ+ current and former serving members of the defence force … is an incredible thing.”

Until 20 years ago, personnel who were not heterosexual were banned from serving in the military and under various policies were investigated and discharged from the armed forces.

A group of gay veterans were stopped from laying a wreath ahead of ANZAC Day 40 years ago.

Phil Neil — the last living member of that group — told ABC Radio Melbourne on Friday it was hard to be reviled after risking his life for the country.

The ban on gay and lesbian personnel was lifted in November 1992, but The Australian War Memorial wrote in 2020 that it did not end discrimination in the force.

Policies have shifted dramatically in the past two decades, and transgender personnel were allowed to serve openly and transition with support from 2010.

In his statement, Mr Lee said moves to memorialise the service of women and Indigenous Australians had faced opposition in the past.

“A decade ago, conversations around veteran suicide were taboo, yet today it is the subject of a royal commission,” he said.

“Society’s values change, and the Shrine is a participant in that change and will continue its efforts to honour the service and sacrifice of all who have served Australia.”

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