Pride Season 2023: Celebrating 2SLGBTQI+ Persons in Canada
June 5, 2023 - Defence Stories
In Canada, Pride Season takes place during the summer months, from June through to September. It is an opportunity to recognize, celebrate, and learn more about the countless contributions Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and additional sexually and gender-diverse identities (2SLGBTQI+) Canadians have made to the Department of National Defence (DND), the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), and to the country.
Pride Season encompasses a wide range of Pride events under one umbrella:
- Pride Month, celebrated every June in many countries;
- Public Service Pride Week, celebrated annually in the third week of August; and
- Pride events celebrated all summer long across Canada.
Pride events in North America trace their origins back to the Stonewall riots of June 28, 1969, when members of the LGBT community protested a police raid at the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in New York City. These community spaces were routinely subject to violent raids and their patrons faced with brutality from law enforcement; Stonewall was an important first step in opposing this treatment and demanding political and social change. On the one-year anniversary of the uprising, the first Pride marches were held in the United States and the movement spread across the world in subsequent years.
Early beginnings of the Pride movement in Canada
Canada has a long and rich history in the struggle for 2SLGBTQI+ rights. It was on May 14, 1969, that Canada decriminalized homosexual acts between consenting adults. Two years later, on August 28, 1971, about 100 people gathered on Parliament Hill for Canada’s first Gay Liberation Protest and March, where organizers presented a petition to the government with a list of ten demands for equal rights and protections. Over the next few years, pride events spread to various Canadian cities.
Yet discrimination and violence against 2SLGBTQI+ persons continued to be common. On October 22, 1977, fifty police officers with guns raided two gay bars in Montreal and arrested 146 patrons, primarily gay men. They were put in holding cells for over eight hours and forced to take venereal disease tests, while being forbidden to call their lawyers. The next day, massive protests erupted in the city.
Another large-scale clash between police and protestors occurred after police raided four gay bathhouses in Toronto on February 5, 1981. This was part of what police called “Operation Soap”, and 300 patrons were arrested. The event is often referred to as Canada’s Stonewall.
These are but two examples of an ongoing system of oppression and over policing of 2SLGBTQI+ communities that was common in this era.
Moving towards equality
A positive change was made when Quebec amended its provincial Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to include sexual orientation as a prohibited basis for discrimination on December 16, 1977, becoming the first jurisdiction in Canada to do so.
On the federal level, a step towards equality was made on October 27, 1992, when the Federal court lifted the ban on homosexual persons serving in the military, ending what was known as the “LGBT Purge”. This was the result of Michelle Douglas’ lawsuit after her dismissal from the Canadian Armed Forces for being lesbian.
Another positive stride was made on June 20, 1996, when the federal government passed Bill C-33 and the Canadian Human Rights Act was amended to include sexual orientation as a prohibited basis for discrimination.
The Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act was introduced on April 11, 2000, expanding the definition of “common-law relationship” to include same-sex couples, and giving them the same social and tax benefits. On July 12, 2002, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying was unconstitutional and gave Ontario two years to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.
A year later, Canada’s first same-sex couple—Michael Leshner and Michael Stark—was married. Over the next few years, other provinces and territories followed suit. Then, the Civil Marriage Act gave same-sex couples the legal right to marry under federal law in 2005, making Canada the fourth country in the world to do so.
On June 19, 2017, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code received royal assent, making it illegal to discriminate based on gender identity and/or expression, while expanding the definition of hate speech to include the two terms as well. On December 8, 2021, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy) was passed into law, declaring that providing, promoting, or advertising conversion therapy is a criminal offence.
The story does not finish here, as Canada continues to take steps in pursuit of legal and social equality for 2SLGBTQI+ Canadians.
Honouring 2SLGBTQI+ Canadians
During this month, we recognize, appreciate, and honour the courage and resilience that 2SLGBTQI+ communities have shown over the years. We support the self-affirmation, dignity, and equality of all 2SLGBTQI+ persons. The participation of 2SLGBTQI+ Canadians in our country’s civic life is of tremendous value. This strong, vibrant and diverse community has contributed to every aspect of life in Canada, from business and politics to arts and culture, sports, science, and much more.
Sadly, 2SLGBTQI+ Canadians have and continue to face horrendous acts of discrimination, bigotry, hate, and violence. Discrimination, hate and LGBTQphobias towards the 2SLGBTQI+ communities are ongoing problems in our world, and its harmful effects continue to hurt individuals and communities around the globe. This is a month to reflect on the fact that while progress has been made, 2SLGBTQI+ persons in Canada continue to face discrimination every day.
For DND/CAF, this is a month to stand in solidarity with 2SLGBTQI+ Defence Team members and reaffirm our goal to eliminate all forms of hate in our workplace, which are unacceptable and morally reprehensible. Let us ensure that all 2SLGBTQI+ Defence Team members feel they belong and can contribute meaningfully to operational success.
Let’s take time to educate ourselves on the history of 2SLGBTQI+ communities in Canada and all their unique identities, expressions, and achievements. We can all benefit from learning about the lived experiences of 2SLGBTQI+ Defence Team members, and to hold space for open and meaningful dialogue regarding any discrimination they have faced, past or present, when voluntarily offered.
There are several resources and organizations available to Defence Team members to accompany them in their learning journey, available all year long:
- Pride Season is the official Government of Canada website for Pride Season.
- 2SLGBTQI+ information page provides information and resources related to the Government of Canada’s work to improve equality for 2SLGBTQI+ communities.
- Welcome, Pride Season! provides statistics on 2SLGBTQI+ persons in Canada.
- Pubic Service Pride is the official website of the Public Service Pride Network.
- Pride At Work Canada empowers employers to build workplaces that celebrate all employees—regardless of gender expression, gender identity, and sexual orientation—through dialogue, education, and leadership.
- Purge LGBT is a not-for-profit corporation that manages a portion of the funds that emerged from the class-action settlement on the LGBT Purge of the Canadian Armed Forces.
- Canadian Armed Forces Employment Equity Plan 2021–2026 [PDF - 4.73MB] works to eliminate barriers for all employment equity groups, including 2SLGBTQI+ persons. (only accessible on DWAN)
- The Fruit Machine documentary chronicles Canada’s policy of surveillance and interrogation of 2SLGBTQI+ people by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) during the Cold War.
- Defence Team Pride Advisory Organization (only accessible on DWAN) establishes a dialogue between members of the Defence 2SLGBTQI+ communities and DND/CAF to implement Employment Equity throughout the DND/CAF.
- Positive Space is a program that fosters the creation of a safe and inclusive work environment for everyone, including members of 2SLGBTQI+ communities.
- Positive Space Ambassador training opportunities (only accessible on DWAN) are available via an online booking tool for Defence Team members.
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