The Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has won the Rainbow Excellence Awards’ recognition for top executive for heading the organisation’s march towards being a leading LGBTTQI+ employer. 

Air Marshal Kevin Short received the Newmarket Business Association Executive Leadership Award in Auckland today. The award recognises genuine ownership, accountability and drive from the top level within an organisation. 

Air Marshal Short said he was humbled and honoured with the recognition, but acknowledged there was more to do.

He paid tribute to Overwatch, the NZDF’s internal employee-led rainbow network, which had put in a “tremendous amount of time, skill and passion” into supporting their community since being formed in 2012.

Air Marshal Short was one of the first service chiefs in the world to march in a Pride Parade, in Wellington last year. 

“I didn’t fully understand the impact this would have on me or others,” he said. “Many people thanked me that day, but one person stood out – someone I had previously served with.

“He told me how much it meant to him to see me, in my role, march in that parade.

“This was someone who had not been able to bring his true self to work and who had left the Defence Force because at that time, prior to 1995, members of the Rainbow community were legally discriminated against.” 

Good people had left the NZDF because they did not feel welcome, safe or valued, Air Marshal Short said.

“Times have changed for the better since then, and it is my privilege as the Chief of Defence Force to lead an inclusive military and to continue to foster a culture of inclusion for all our people.”

His personal support started in 2013 when he sponsored the NZDF Pride in Defence, a multi-agency NZDF-led conference exploring the benefits of inclusion within complex organisations. Air Marshal Short (then an Air Commodore) chose to attend, benefiting from and contributing to the conversation around inclusion and diversity.

He has wholeheartedly supported rainbow inclusion initiatives and last year the Defence Force was awarded the Rainbow Tick for its work.

Initiatives have included an NZDF presence and flypast at Auckland’s Big Gay Out and the commemorative Rainbow Warriors photographic exhibit at Auckland’s War Memorial Museum.

Air Marshal Short also backed the Squadron Leader Peter Rule Memorial Award for Inclusion, which was launched last year in honour of a gay pilot whose distinguished 20-year career was ended in 1975 because of his sexuality. 

This inclusion award is now an annual fixture in the Defence Person of the Year awards. 

Air Marshal Short said that while the Defence Force had come a long way in 25 years, it still had work to do.

“I will continue to work to ensure that we are supporting all our personnel to feel safe and valued, and have meaningful and enjoyable careers in the Defence Force, no matter who they are.”

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