Tuesday, Nov. 28, and in our nation’s capital, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood up in the House of Commons and apologized to the LGBTQ community over past wrongs, and the “gay purge” that was committed against gays in the Armed Forces, the RCMP and civil service.
These horrific actions took place from the 1950s until early 1990s. People were literally kicked out because of their sexual orientation. This apology has been in the works for some time and is hailed as a huge step toward reconciliation. Over $100 million has been earmarked for purposes that include compensation and programs to educate the general public, and raise awareness that discrimination must end.
Many in the LGBTQ community are elated by this development and see this as the beginning of a more promising future. Others are making it clear that it took the government too long in recognizing this action. We must remember that previous governments were just not interested and thought the “gay purge” was a normal way to get rid of “undesirables” in our country.
Former prime minister Pierre Trudeau was recently criticized for not being inclusive enough in his approach to the LGBTQ community. Earlier, as justice minister in the Pearson government, he felt homosexuality should be decriminalized and that “The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation.” Later that year, in 1969, homosexuality was indeed decriminalized.
Canada was one of the first nations in the world to make it law. It did little to protect members of the LGBTQ community at that time, as indicated by the firing of gay Canadians serving in the Armed Forces, the RCMP and the civil service. It took many more years to be included in the Canadian Charter and other legal areas to gain some equal rights.
How do we conclude that this apology will fare into the future? We will surely discover that with the best of intentions, some loopholes always surface. That is to be expected, as not all will be satisfied with this apology. It is imperative that we keep focussing on the positive and address the shortcomings over time. Perfection is not guaranteed, and this will certainly be discussed for years to come. As human beings, we are never satisfied and we love to criticize, but we’ll work on it.
Interviews with those who were incarcerated and otherwise punished, are heart-breaking, and indicate the angst and blatant discrimination that occurred in those years. Of course, the discrimination continues and that must also be addressed.
A friend of mine is a former Armed Forces member, and she has detailed the horrors of those years and remains a victim. Hopefully the apology will work for her. She attended the ceremony in Ottawa. I had to decline an invite by the special adviser to the prime minister for LGBTQ issues, Randy Boissonnault, as were other activists for the LGBTQ community. I would love to have been in attendance. Boissonnault was instrumental in, and guided this apology.
Kudos to Justin Trudeau, the first prime minister in our history to throw his support to the LGBTQ community in this country, for being sincere in his efforts. Trudeau delivered a very sincere, lengthy and meaningful apology, covering all the points necessary for us to ponder. Let’s band together for a more positive future where the possibility of the horrific wrongs committed by governments of the time will not be repeated.
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Gerard Veldhoven is a longtime activist for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. His column appears Wednesdays in The News.