“I think the Shrine is sacrosanct and shouldn’t be used in that way, not just for gay and LGBTQI issues but on any issues,” he said.
“It’s one thing to illuminate Town Hall or Flinders Street Station. I think it’s a bigger step to illuminate the Shrine.”
Yvonne Sillett, the co-founder of the Discharged LGBTI Veterans’ Association and who features in a video in the exhibition, said she had been elated the rainbow colors would feature on the memorial and was shattered to learn it would not go ahead.
Sillett told the Royal Commission into Defense and Veteran Suicide in February that military police interrogated her over her sexuality in the army in the 1980s, leading her to experience suicidal thoughts and take an honorable discharge the following year.
Australia banned gay and lesbian people from serving in the armed forces until 1992, and Sillett said lighting up the building was some recognition of the struggle.
“We’ve struggled when we were in, we struggled when we were out. Absolutely treat us all the same, but that didn’t happen to us,” she said.
Sillett said some comments on social media following the radio segment had been hurtful to LGBTQ veterans and serving members.
“These trolls are probably not even going to go to the exhibition, but they need to go … to see what we went through.”
The exhibition, Defending with Pride: Stories of LGBTQ+ Service, marks the first time an Australian war memorial has examined LGBTQ service in a dedicated exhibition. It is the third in a series of exhibits exploring individual identity in times of war.
Lee told 3AW on Wednesday that he questioned whether the pride colors were divisive.
“The ADF has recognised gay, lesbian and bisexual members since 1992, so we are talking 30 years of recognition within the ADF, so I don’t know it is that divisive within the defense community,” Lee said.
“It was considered very carefully … we felt this was an important thing to recognise.”
Lee said he would be surprised if the majority of Victoria was not supportive of the decision to recognise diversity of service.
“The horrors of war and the legacy of service do not discriminate and every member who has served in the ADF needs to be able to be recognised with pride,” he said.
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