Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance cancels rainbow light plan, citing threats and abuse

Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance has canceled plans to light up the site in rainbow colours, citing “sustained abuse” and threats directed at its staff.

Key points:

  • A rainbow light plan was set up to mark the opening of an exhibition about LGBTQI+ people who served
  • Chief executive of Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance says some staff suffered abuse and threats over plan
  • Lights canceled ‘to minimize damage’ but exhibition and service go ahead

The rainbow plan for Sunday night was scheduled to coincide with the opening of a new exhibit inside the Sanctuary, called Defending with Pride: Stories of LGBTQ+ Service.

It is an exhibition that captures the history of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in Australia’s armed forces.

The exhibit and a Last Post service are still going ahead as of Sunday, but Shrine of Remembrance executive director Dean Lee confirmed the rainbow lighting would not be making it.

“For several days, our staff have received and been subject to sustained abuse and, in some cases, threats,” he said in a statement.

“We’ve seen something of what members of the LGBTIQ+ community experience every day. It’s hateful.”

Some social media activity had suggested there could be a protest against the lights taking place on Sunday afternoon.

The shrine was the site of violent scenes in September, when protesters against the blockade were involved in a tense standoff with police.

Space for play or pause, M for mute, left and right arrows for search, up and down arrows for volume. In September 2021, Melbourne protesters were met by riot police at the Shrine of Remembrance.

“In order to minimize harm, we have considered this matter carefully and sought guidance from partners and friends of the Sanctuary, including veterans’ associations, representatives of the LGBTIQ+ veterans community and the Victorian Government,” Lee said .

“The stories we seek to tell. The service we seek to honor. These will be told. The brave lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, gender diverse and queer people in the armed forces will be honored.”

The move to light up the Shrine drew some backlash from conservative commentators, who expressed concern about the “politicization” of the site. Some veterans also opposed the move.


Lee pointed to the recent lighting of the building to commemorate the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe when he defended the decision earlier in the week.

It has also been lit up in honor of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and to remember police officers killed in the 2020 Eastern Motorway crash tragedy.

The exhibition continues

Asked hours before the Sanctuary confirmed the news, state government minister Steve Dimopoulos said: “That’s up to them. [the Shrine]. I’m not going to comment on that.”

“Apart from telling you, not only as a gay man, but as a Victorian, the fact that there is an exhibition that recognizes the contribution of current and former members of the LGBTIQ+ defense force… is an incredible thing” .

Until 20 years ago, non-heterosexual personnel were prohibited from serving in the military and under various policies were investigated and discharged from the armed forces.

40 years ago, a group of gay veterans were prevented from laying a wreath ahead of ANZAC Day.

Phil Neil, the last living member of that group, told ABC Radio Melbourne on Friday it was difficult to be insulted after risking his life for the country.

The ban on gay and lesbian staff was lifted in November 1992, but The Australian War Memorial wrote in 2020 that it did not end discrimination in force.

Policies have changed dramatically in the past two decades, and transgender personnel have been allowed to serve openly and transition with support since 2010.

In his statement, Lee said moves to commemorate the service of women and Indigenous Australians had faced opposition in the past.

“A decade ago, conversations about veteran suicide were taboo, but today it’s the subject of a royal commission,” he said.

“Society’s values ​​change, and the Shrine participates in that change and will continue its efforts to honor the service and sacrifice of all who have served Australia.”

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