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New Zealand Supergays in the Air Force

Before leaving San Francisco, clinic we received an e-mail from New Zealand Air Force officer, more about Tom Williams. Tom wrote us after hearing about Out and Around on a weekly LGBT radio show in New Zealand. We had done a couple of radio interviews in the States, malady but we had no idea that our project had reached the other side of the globe. Tom invited us to meet him and his colleague, Stuart Pearce, who has lead the formation of the New Zealand Defence Force Gay and Lesbian Information Service. The internet is truly amazing. If you write us with a Supergay suggestion, we may just show up at your door.

A week later we arrived in Auckland and drove to the Royal New Zealand Air Force base to meet Tom and Stuart. Since 1993 the New Zealand Human Rights Act ended most forms of discrimination against the LGBT community, all people have been able to serve in the military. Tom is pursuing his university degree under the Air Force, and Stuart serves as an engineer and lives in the married quarters with his partner. They invited us to see the officer’s quarters and talked to us about their experience in the military as openly gay men.

VIDEO: What is life like as gay men in the New Zealand Air Force?…

http://youtu.be/A1QKApDVYy8

Stuart, who has served both in the British Air Force and the New Zealand Air Force, will be traveling to the US later this year to consult with the US military about implementing the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. When asked his thoughts about the US policy, Stuart says, “I am bemused by it really. From my experience in the UK, I’ve seen this process once before and heard the same argument about undermining team cohesion and combative excellence. The lessons the UK learned is that none of that can be substantiated. It’s quite sad really to hear and watch people like us have to fight. I applaud my American colleagues who have really fought hard to bring about change.”

He meets with the American Air Force later this year consulting as a subject expert to help them with the first steps. He says, “People’s opinions will adjust. You can’t force people to change their attitudes and embrace diversity and equality overnight. But you can ensure that checks and balances are in place so that should something go wrong, there are enough safety precautions to protect vulnerable people.”

Stuart conveyed hope about US policy. He says, “there is no reason the US can’t be like all those who have gone before…. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, France, Belgium, and Germany. We want to share our good practice with our American friends to help them get to where we are.”

When we asked Tom and Stuart what they loved about the military, both said they appreciated the culture and the community. Wow, isn’t that what we love about the gay community? Stuart added “I love the team cohesiveness in the Air Force. The friendships I’ve made have been fantastic and that makes all the difference.”

VIDEO: Tom and Stuart made our first day of Out & Around incredibly memorable. How did the next two weeks in New Zealand go? Check out Jenni’s latest video blog about our adventures camper-vanning around this gorgeous country. …

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  1. Stu wrote us to add in this update…

    Stu wrote: “Kia Ora guys. It was great to do the interview with you guys! Just to give you some info on what’s happened since, on Friday last week we held the first ever Royal New Zealand Air Force Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (RNZAF GLBT) Forum. The Forum was attended by a mix of ‘older and bolder’ folk, plus some who are only just coming out. We also were joined by Lucy Jordan, who as the RNZAF’s first in-service trans woman is something of a trailblazer. Her situation has challenged policy and is paving the way for others in her situation to follow in her footsteps. She’s one brave Lady! Importantly, we also were joined by a number of Air Force commanders: the Base Commander welcomed all delegates and the Chief of the Air Force sent us a welcoming foreword to accompany the event. Also attending were members of our wider Support network – Service Chaplains, Command Warrant Officers, Medical Officers and Service Psychologists. It was a great opportunity for GLBT servicemen and women to engage with these specialists and also for the specialists to gain an appreciation for the unique challenges and anxieties faced by our GLBT people in the military. As I mentioned in the interview, we can’t change attitudes overnight, and even today some 17 years after the ban on GLBT people serving in the New Zealand military was lifted, we still occasionally face discrimination. But we’ve been working hard to ensure we have enough safety nets to catch those that fall. Our Commanders, welfare providers, our Chaplaincy branch are actively engaged in doing their best by our GLBT folk. Its an ongoing process and it requires a concerted effort, but its really making a difference. That’s the message we’ll be taking with us when we travel to the USA later in the year to talk with our American friends as they begin to take the next steps towards full equality in Uniform following the end of DADT. Its not necessarily going to be an easy path but us military folk like a challenge. As we say in the Air Force ‘Per Ardua Ad Astra’ – Through Adversity to the Stars. Thanks for taking the time to meet with us and alll the very best for your ongoing adventures. Cheers, Stu and the RNZAF GLBT Forum team.”

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