Former Australian special forces officer Heston Russell has slammed the decision to light up Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance in Pride colours as a failed attempt at virtue signalling.
Russell, who served for 16 years in the armed forces, spoke to me outside the Shrine where he attended a service in memory of Australia’s contribution to the Vietnam War.
He said that while Shrine CEO Dean Lee may have had good intentions, the attempted move to turn the sacred site into a rainbow light display showed a failed understanding and a lack of respect for veterans.
“The purpose (of the Shrine) is not to commemorate individuality,” he said.
“For me, when people like the CEO (of the Shrine) and his team have never served themselves might be trying to do what they think is a good thing … to help society accept that diversity piece, you’re actually completely missing the fact.”
Russell, who has come out as gay, said he was contacted by LGBTQ+ members from within the veteran community who were outraged that their individual identities were being used as a cultural statement at such a special place for all veterans.
“My issue with whatever flag is flown up here is that you have to engage with the veteran community and have those discussions,” he said.
“The Victorian RSL, the majority of the veteran community, I don’t know if any were actually consulted before they put that (Pride) flag up … and the outrage came from the veteran community.”
Russell, who is making waves in political circles with the Australian Values Party, had some advice for Lee.
“Listen to the veterans, listen to those who have served, understand there is still going to be fractured and segmented conversations in between, but when all else fails what is the purpose of this place? Commemorating service and sacrifice, not sexuality, not religion,” he said.
“In the military, we have this rule, when you’re at formal occasions and even in the lines you don’t discuss three topics: Sex, religion and politics, because they tend to sew the seeds of anger discontent, resentment and arguments within the workplace.
“That is literally a rule and then all of the sudden on the outside we are discussing and signalling sex, religion and politics, that’s not what we do.”