Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance cancels rainbow light plan due to threats, 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.

The rainbow plan 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 is still going ahead, but on Saturday afternoon Shrine 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.

“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.

“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.

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The exhibition was organised with the support of the Office of the Victorian Commissioner for LGBTIQ+ Communities, Defence Gay and Lesbian Information Support Service and Australian Queer Archives, and was partially funded by a Department of Veterans’ Affairs grant.

Questioned hours before the Shrine confirmed the news, government minister Steve Dimopoulos said: “I’ve got to say, the trustees of the Shrine of Remembrance have probably one of the most important jobs in the country and in Victoria.”

“That is a matter for them. I’m not going to comment on that,” he said.

“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.

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