A gay air force veteran has described the devastating toll of the Australian Defence Force shaming him and forcing him out over his sexuality in the early 1990s.
Growing up in Daylesford in regional Victoria in the 1980s, Danny Liversidge (above) enthusiastically signed up to join the Royal Australian Air Force.
He later passed RAAF training with flying colours at age 20, he told the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide in Sydney on Tuesday.
However at age 23, Liversidge suddenly learned that his superiors had targeted him for surveillance, he told the inquiry.
He was summoned to a meeting with military police. They showed Liversidge photos, dates and times that he had gone to gay bars.
“I was asked, ‘What type of people frequent this bar?’,” he said.
“That was like the ‘Oh s__t’ moment. They then had a series of dates and times that they’d known that I’d gone to gay bars.
“I had been under surveillance. My movements had been tracked.”
During the two-hour meeting, Liversidge was interrogated with many intrusive questions, including the type of company he kept and how many times he’d had sex with other men.
“I just wanted to crawl under a rock and die [because of] the shaming and humiliating questioning,” he said.
“I don’t think I’d even called myself a homosexual at that stage.
“But they’d forced me now. [It was] the very first time I ever said it out loud, ‘Yes, I believe I am a homosexual’.
“I’m sitting there terrified, absolutely terrified.”
Discharge left gay veteran homeless and suicidal
At that time, ADF policies prohibited homosexual behaviour, in part deeming it a “security risk” and “national threat”.
Danny Liversidge said he was told his homosexuality was “incompatible” with military service.
Eventually, he quietly took an honourable discharge from the RAAF. His superiors told him he would be blackmailed and his career would never progress.
The ordeal left him a “wounded person” and he was homeless and suicidal as a result, Liversidge recalled.
“In less than two weeks I’d gone from being a loyal, committed, enthusiastic member of the air force to jobless, homeless, living in my car,” he said.
“That was a lot for a 23-year-old to deal with at that point in time.
“Your job and career have gone up in smoke. And you’re now living in your car on the side of the street.
“That’s what they did to me.”
However just months after Liversidge’s discharge in 1991, the ADF put in place a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on homosexuality.
But he was not invited to return to his RAAF career.
“I would have been back there in a flash,” he told the Royal Commission.
Danny Liversidge wants apology from Australian Defence Force
The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide began last year. The inquiry is holding public hearings in Sydney this week.
On Monday, the Royal Commission heard from discharged lesbian soldier Yvonne Sillett.
She told the inquiry she was similarly surveilled, interrogated and driven out of the ADF over her sexuality.
She and Danny Liversidge are now key leaders in the Discharged LGBTI Veterans Association, supporting others.
Liversidge told the Royal Commission an apology from the Australian Defence Force was an important step.
“It would be recognition after 32 years that they get what they were doing was wrong,” Liversidge said.
“I think that’s still missing from these stories that we’re telling you today.”
The Royal Commission has received more than 1100 submissions from individuals, ex-service organisations and experts.
Compared with the general population, suicide rates are 24 per cent higher for ex-serving men and double for ex-serving women, government data shows.
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