Lesbian soldier expelled from ADF in ‘witch hunt’ over sexuality

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It was Yvonne Sillett’s lifelong dream to serve in the Australian Defense Force.

But at the age of 28, the lesbian soldier was watched and interrogated by superiors and eventually kicked out of her job because of her sexuality.

The veteran started in the army at the age of 18 and explained that she took life in the army “like a hand in a glove”.

In 1985, she was the first female corporal in charge of recruit training at a regional military base in New South Wales.

“I didn’t have a plan B. [The army] was going to be my life. It was going to be my career,” she said.

But Sillett told the Royal Commission on Defense and Veteran Suicide that all changed in July 1988.

She was targeted in a damaging ‘witch hunt’ that would eventually end her dream career.

Sillett told the hearing in Sydney on Monday that she had already been in his service for years when she personally discovered she was a lesbian in the 1980s.

“Until then, I was always dating men,” she recalls.

“But I thought, I’m in love with a woman, but only with this person.

“I’m not gay. I can’t be gay, I’m in the Royal Australian Signal Corps.

She kept her same-sex relationships quiet for fear of reprisals under Army policies at the time.

These policies prohibited homosexual behavior, in part on the grounds that it was a “security risk” and a “national threat”.

“There would have been consequences. I would have potentially lost my security clearance,” she said.

“I could have been fired. It was an emotionally difficult time for me. »

“The most humiliating and degrading experience of my life”

In July 1988, Yvonne Sillett’s worst fears came true. The soldier was called in for what appeared to be a routine interview to discuss his security clearance.

However, the interview was an aggressive three-hour interrogation. Sillett said her superiors told her they had been tracking and monitoring her and her friends.

“The sergeant said words like, ‘Let’s stop beating around the bush. We have reason to believe you are gay,” she recalled.

“There was no empathy, there was no sympathy. They were just asking me questions.

“I stayed there for about three hours. I was treated like a criminal.

“They became aggressive. They tried to break me.

“It was the most humiliating and degrading experience of my life.

“All the time it was just bullying, just demanding things from me, demanding that I give names or ‘If you give names we might be too soft on you’.”

His superiors threatened to revoke his top secret security clearance and effectively dashed his hopes and chances for future career advancement.

Sillett, who became emotional over the investigation, said she knew it was “the end of my career and my dream”.

“I was shocked. I felt like I was losing everything before my eyes,” she said.

“Everything I worked so hard for for almost 10 years and my childhood dream.”

Sillett recalled that she felt then that if she stayed in the military, she would have “a target on her back.”

Eventually, the soldier took an honorable discharge in 1989, at age 28.

“I really couldn’t tell anyone. The only people who knew were the people closest to me,” she said.

“I didn’t want to break my parents’ hearts.

“I started having suicidal thoughts.”

Yvonne Sillett is still waiting for an apology for the ADF treatment

Prime Minister Paul Keating would later repeal the army’s anti-gay policy in 1992.

Yvonne Sillett says that although the policies have changed, she is still fighting for justice and recognition.

The former soldier is still awaiting an apology for his treatment all those years ago.

“I didn’t have the opportunity to have a 20-year retirement pension, I didn’t have the opportunity to have a lifetime pension,” she said.

“I haven’t had the opportunity to serve overseas in peacekeeping.

However, Sillett said it was “not the money for me. It’s a matter of principle.

“No one really wants to listen or take responsibility for how we were treated.

“That’s what I’m fighting for, and that’s why I’m here today.”

In 2016, Sillett wrote to the Defense Ombudsman asking for a formal apology for his ordeal.

“The request was rejected because my case was not considered serious bullying,” Ms Sillett said.

“I received a letter indicating that, again, it was not bullying. They couldn’t do anything. »

Yvonne Sillett continues to push for a national apology and reparations program for ADF personnel and their families impacted by historic policies.

Royal Commission on Defense and Veteran Suicide continues in Sydney

Since her release, Yvonne Sillett has become a key member of an organization supporting LGBTIQ+ personnel in the Australian Defense Force.

She has already shared her own story in the book Serve in silence by Noah Riseman, Shirleene Robinson and Graham Willett.

Last year the Royal Commission on Defense and Suicide of Veterans began and is holding public hearings in Sydney this week.

The survey received over 1,100 submissions from many individuals, former military organizations and experts.

Compared to the general population, suicide rates are 24% higher among former servicemen and double among former women, according to government data.

If you need to speak to someone you can get help from Lifeline on 13 11 14, QLife on 1800 184 527 or online at QLife.org.auKids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, or Beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Consult our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, instagram and Youtube.

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