Bruce Miller’s tenure at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) paints a vivid picture of the challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ staff in Australian diplomacy. Joining DFAT in the 1980s, Miller, a gay man, endured a professional landscape marred by homophobic jokes and discrimination. His experiences, among others, are highlighted in the newly released book “Let’s Dance: A History of LGBTIQ Staff in the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade”. The book, documenting the journey of LGBTQIA+ workers in DFAT, was launched with the support of Foreign Minister Penny Wong, who emphasized the importance of diversity in organizations like DFAT.
Evolution of Attitudes in DFAT
The book, authored by former diplomat Rhonda Piggott, explores the changing landscape for LGBTQIA+ staff from the 1950s onwards. Piggott’s interviews with over 70 current and former DFAT employees reveal a history of hidden identities and double lives. While male homosexual relationships were illegal in Australia until the 1970s, the decriminalization process and social activism paved the way for gradual acceptance in the workplace. Piggott herself, having joined DFAT in the 1980s, recalls the persistent challenges and discrimination she faced.
The Journey of Acceptance
Despite the slow progress, significant strides have been made in DFAT. By the 1990s, the department began recognizing same-sex partners, allowing them diplomatic passports. This shift, however, did not immediately erase discrimination or microaggressions. Bruce Miller reflects on the frustration of his partner, Mikio Ishizawa, being relegated to the shadows during their time in Japan. The journey towards equality was not just about being treated “no differently” but also about recognizing and embracing differences.
The Present and Future of LGBTQIA+ Staff in DFAT
Today, the situation for LGBTQIA+ staff in DFAT has improved, but challenges remain, particularly concerning the visibility and acceptance of transgender individuals. DFAT is recognized as a conservative agency, and while it has been progressive in some aspects, it has often been reluctant to lead public opinion. The AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, for example, highlighted the department’s limited support and understanding for its gay staff.
Reflecting on the Past to Inform the Future
The publication of “Let’s Dance” is not just a reflection of the past but a guidepost for the future. It serves as a reminder of the struggles and triumphs of LGBTQIA+ staff in DFAT and a call to continue working towards a more inclusive and supportive workplace. The book’s launch is a testament to the ongoing commitment to create a respectful and safe environment for all staff, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.