New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has about 14,000 staff members, including civilians, across the Navy, Army and Air Force. Overseas deployments, UN missions and military exercises mean it operates in countries across the globe.
NZDF established the OverWatch group in 2012 to support the unique needs of the Defence Force’s LGBTQI staff – both in uniform and civilian – and provide education to its Defence Force leaders so they understand different sexualities and gender identities.
OverWatch is administered by a team of volunteers who have formed a management group made up of gay, lesbian and transgender representatives from across all services and within the civilian ranks.
“OverWatch has provided an effective source of education to commanders and policymakers. It provides advice and assists in tackling negative or non-inclusive behaviour in a swift and effective way as well as helping foster a culture of positive bystander intervention amongst Defence Force personnel.”
Representatives of OverWatch have also met with colleagues from around the world to share their ideas and form the NATO+ Working Group. The aims of the group are to promote fair and equitable treatment of LGBTQI personnel in the military and share ‘best practice’.
Having membership in the group means anyone in the Defence Force can access support resources from all of the other countries’ militaries who are also members.
“Initially started by a few Air Force personnel, the value of a support group for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning and Intersex (LGBTQI) staff was quickly recognised by leaders as a key mechanism in supporting the wellbeing of its people.”
“The ideal would be that OverWatch is no longer a requirement – that tolerance becomes acceptance and that no person requires advice and support. Until that day the Defence Force will be committed to ensuring it is an organisation that understands strength lies in the diversity of all its personnel.”