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Gays in the Canadian Forces:  Where Are We?
 
ONLINE:  FRIDAY JANUARY 21, 2000.

THE recent world news on gays in the military has focused the spotlight again on this issue.  The ban being lifted in the UK, the US Pfc. Barry Winchell murder court martials, and the prominence of the issue in the American gay press in preparation for November's elections have all brought military gay policies and experiences to the front page again.

But where is Canada with this?  Are Canadian gay and lesbian people free to serve in the defense of their country and without harassment or worse?  Beyond policies, is one's sexual orientation an issue in practice, in the day-to-day?

A military career is not a 9-5 job, and service members are subject to military or administrative law, different from the regular law of civilians.  We've heard that other countries, often in northern Europe, are more progressive with gay equality, and that the American "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy "Don't Work."  So where are we - what's the situation for our service members past and present, and for gays and lesbians who may desire to serve their country or experience the benefits of a military career?

Gayottawanow.com took a look this week at gays in the Canadian Forces.

Switch on a Powerful Machine

Interviews with past and present gay Canadian service members who detailed their views and experiences, one going back to the 1970s, revealed an overwhelming picture to gayottawanow.com.  It was of a powerful machine which, when the Canadian Forces had a "no homosexual" policy, vilified gay people and subjected them to personally chosen levels of military power.  Then, all of a sudden, someone at the top hit the switch on the machine and it stopped overnight, as if it had never been on.

"That's a good analogy," said Michele Douglas, the woman who became the catalyst of change for the Canadian Forces when she took her case to the Supreme Court and won.  It was that ruling, and the military's subsequent compliance with it, that turned off the machine in 1992.

But the change occurred as a result of more than Ms. Douglas' courage.  "Lest we forget that these new rights were built on the backs of many destroyed careers and dreams," wrote dismissed service member Tim Reid in an e-mail.  "It was ... at the cost of plenty of lives and many have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which to date is yet to be addressed."

Mr. Reid's story of surveillance, drugging and interrogation by the "secret police of the military police" is detailed below.

And the experience of members today seems to be qualified by rank, field versus office assignment, and location of posting.  At the Officer level at headquarters in Ottawa, gays and lesbians arguably have it better than those working in a mainstream corporation.  Conduct violating the policy is subject to requirements of reporting and enforcement with the potential for damage to an Officer's career subsequent to gay harassment behaviour.  At the level of Non-Commissioned Officer in the field overseas, "Spot the fag" discussions in the barracks are apparently not uncommon.

Switch on a Powerful Machine

The Official Line:  Everything's Fine Here

Development of Equality:  Built on the Backs of Many

An Officer's Life at Headquarters:  Out & Respected

Non-Commissioned Officers & Field Operations:  Changed Behaviours, Unchanged Beliefs

Acknowledgments
Gayottawanow.com would like to express sincere thanks and appreciation to the following people for their assistance in the preparation of this story (chronologically):  Captain Chapleau (DND Public Affairs), Former Seaman Tim Reid, (?) Michele Douglas (Ret.), Peter Olby (DND Access to Information), Captain Marcel Forget, Corporal Shawn King, and Naval Captain (Ret.) Bob Duncombe.