LGBT History Month and its importance to the Defence Team

October 25, 2022 - Defence Stories

This article was contributed by Emily Ching, Senior Planning Advisor, Diversity and Inclusion, of the Directorate of Inclusion, Chief Professional Conduct and Culture.

October is recognized internationally as LGBT History Month. While Pride Season, observed in Canada from June to September, is a chance to celebrate the diversity and inclusion of Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and additional sexual and gender identities (2SLGBTQI+) communities and identities, LGBT History Month presents Canadians with an opportunity to learn about the history, contributions, and influence of 2SLGBTQI+ citizens and communities.

We encourage the entire Defence Team, from recruits and new hires to senior leadership, to take some time this month to reflect on the contributions of past and present 2SLGBTQI+ Defence Team members who have led us with courage, loyalty and integrity in the service of Canada. We acknowledge our collective and individual responsibility to ensure that 2SLGBTQI+ members are thoughtfully considered, supported, and included in the workplace and among our ranks.

This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the settlement of Michelle Douglas’ historic lawsuit against the Department of National Defence (DND), marking the official end to the ban on 2SLGBTQI+ members in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). Despite this landmark victory, the systemic discrimination, abuse, and termination of members of the CAF, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and federal public service believed to be 2SLGBTQI+ continued throughout much of the following decade. This practice came to be known as the LGBT Purge.

Originally excused as a security measure during the Cold War, the LGBT Purge began in the 1950s. The practice was partly based on the erroneous beliefs that 2SLGBTQI+ people were more susceptible to blackmail by operatives for the Soviet Union, and that people with such “character weaknesses” could be sympathetic to Soviet communism. The Canadian Government systematically screened members of the CAF, RCMP, and federal public service, terminating the employment of any personnel suspected of engaging in same-sex relationships.  

It is important to acknowledge that the LGBT Purge was not limited to the termination of the victims’ careers. Members were spied upon, harassed, and psychologically, physically and sexually abused. The Government of Canada created, with researchers from Carleton University, a controversial device designed to “detect” homosexuality by gauging victims’ physiological responses to pornographic images. The “Fruit Machine,” as it was informally known, was unscientific and proved to be ineffective. It was subsequently destroyed.  

The Government of Canada decriminalized some aspects of homosexuality in 1969, but their abuse of personnel suspected of same-sex attraction continued over the next three decades. Canadian Forces Administrative Order (CFAO) 19–20 stated, “Service policy does not allow homosexual members or members with a sexual abnormality to be retained in the CF” and required CF members who “becomes aware or suspects that a member of the CF is a homosexual, or has a sexual abnormality” (Prior to 1976, the policy used the term “sexual deviants”) to report their suspicions to their Commanding Officer, who was obligated to investigate and involve both military police and medical authorities. This order remained in effect until Michelle Douglas’ lawsuit was settled in October 1992. 

By publishing CANFORGEN CDS 182/92, the Chief of Defence Staff couched his support for this change by saying “While this decision may be difficult for some members of the CF to accept, I wish you all to understand that revocation of the homosexual policy has my full support” and went on to state that the CAF policy had reflected long-standing national attitudes towards homosexuality. This message failed to address the harm done by CFAO 19–20. It excused the order as a reflection of societal attitudes. By neglecting to take a strong stance in support of 2SLGBTQI+ inclusion, it effectively authorized CAF members to continue to harass, abuse and discriminate against 2SLGBTQI+ personnel. As a result, many members of the Defence Team continued to hide their sexual or gender identities to ensure their safety in the workplace.

In 2016, survivors of the LGBT Purge launched a class-action lawsuit against the Government of Canada. They sought reparations for the abuse, harassment, and trauma inflicted upon them by their former employer. The plaintiffs and the Government reached an historic settlement agreement in June 2018, including reparations of $145 million.

In 2021, the LGBT Purge Fund published “Emerging from the Purge: The state of LGBTQI2S Inclusion in the Federal Workplace and Recommendations for Improvement” (you are now leaving the Government of Canada website), which outlined the results of a study conducted within the federal public service, the RCMP, and the CAF. Emerging from the Purge presented the study’s key findings and made 23 recommendations to support systemic change towards 2SLGBTQI+ inclusion in federal workplaces. The report showed that, while the Defence Team has made significant strides in several areas of 2SLGBTQI+ inclusion, there are many opportunities for continued improvement. Some members still feel the harm of discriminatory policies like those that led to the LGBT Purge. 

Michelle Douglas, now Executive Director of the LGBT Purge Fund, says, “… it will take coordinated, deliberate, and effective efforts to promote sustainable culture change and foster truly inclusive workplaces across the Government of Canada. Emerging from the Purge is the roadmap for change.” 

With its support of the inaugural Federal 2SLGBTQI+ Action Plan, the Defence Team joins all Government of Canada departments and agencies in taking accountability for its wrongdoings towards sexually- and gender-diverse Canadians. The Defence Team is ready to lead in the fight for the rights and equality of 2SLGBTQI+ communities across Canada and the world. Although we can never undo the pain caused by the policies and actions of the Government of Canada and the Defence Team, we must learn from and rise above our mistakes. The Defence Team must uphold its values, so that we may be trusted to serve. By committing to the implementation of all remaining recommendations of Emerging from the Purge and the 2SLGBTQI+ Action Plan, the Defence Team will help ensure all members are treated in a manner that respects the dignity of all.

The recent updates to the CAF Dress Instructions serve as an example of the Defence Team’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. By removing gendered dress regulations, some of the barriers to self-expression are removed, such as the need to seek permission to wear the desired uniform. This change recognizes the updated Canadian Human Rights Act protections for gender identity and gender expression. By acknowledging the importance of self-expression within a team, and recognizing the strength in diversity, the Defence Team is more prepared to achieve mission success. 

The success of many of the objectives of the 2SLGBTQI+ Action Plan depends on familiarity with the history, current events, and goals of 2SLGBTQI+ communities. Rainbow Veterans of Canada (you are now leaving the Government of Canada website), a group founded by LGBT Purge Survivors, is dedicated to ensuring that no other groups are subjected to anything like the LGBT Purge. In 2022, the Defence Team was represented at many Pride marches across Canada. At Ottawa’s Capital Pride Festival, the Defence Team Pride Advisory Organization (DTPAO) included members of the Rainbow Veterans in the Defence Team parade contingent and at the CAF information booth, providing members of the public a valuable opportunity to learn about 2SLGBTQI+ CAF members’ past, present and future.

The coming updates and expansion of the Positive Space Program, including a micro-credentialing program to be hosted on the Defence Learning Network, will give Defence Team members the chance to increase their knowledge and awareness of 2SLGBTQI+ history and of allyship.

Defence Team members who would like more information and guidance on how to foster the creation of a safe and inclusive work environment for everyone, including members of the 2SLGBTQI+ communities, can reach out to a Positive Space Ambassador (accessible only on the National Defence network). All members who would like to contribute to the advancement of 2SLGBTQI+ equity and inclusion in the Defence Team are also encouraged to join their local DTPAO. To learn more about the LGBT Purge, the DTPAO (accessible only on the National Defence network) and the Rainbow Veterans recommend watching Sarah Fodey’s TVO documentary “The Fruit Machine” (you are now leaving the Government of Canada website). 

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