Strong. Pride. Ready: Canadian Armed Forces Marches in Annual Toronto Pride Parade

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Article / July 4, 2016 / Project number: c-ar-pride-parade

Toronto, ON  — On the Canada Day long-weekend in Toronto, over a million spectators descended on the downtown core to celebrate Canada’s diversity. People from all across the globe were on hand to participate in one of the world’s largest LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) pride parades. Amongst many of the parade-participants, a sizeable contingent of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members were on hand to march in uniform along the Yonge Street parade route.

While many members were proud to show their support for the LGBTQ community by marching in the Parade, people like Commander Robert Johnston, based at HMCS York in Toronto, reflects upon the past and recalls that the military wasn’t always such a welcoming employer. “The Forces have come a long, long way from an era when it was grounds for expulsion to the present day where it is barely even a topic of conversation,” says Johnston. “I think LGBT [CAF] members are treated very well, reflecting the changes in Canadian society as a whole. It is no longer acceptable to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation and identity, and this is largely reflected in the daily behaviour and attitudes of CAF members.”

Many people nowadays, however, forget that Canada’s military has a history of mistreatment when it comes to acceptance of openly gay military members. In 1967, a Canadian Forces Administrative Order (CFAO 19-20, Sexual Deviation - Investigation, Medical Investigation and Disposal) came into effect which required members of the military suspected of being gay to be investigated and then subsequently released from service. This was a stark contrast from the way LGBT military members are treated today.

Lieutenant-Commander Sarah Stainton, also based at HMCS York, mimic’s Johnston’s viewpoint. “My experiences with the CAF have always been positive in supporting LGBTQ communities. I have found that the CAF, RCN (Royal Canadian Navy) and NAVRES (Naval Reserves) have been very supportive in employment around inclusiveness,” she said. “Authorizing the Pride flag to be flown in all HMC Ships was very profound and reflected the changing attitudes around diversity and inclusiveness within the leadership of the RCN.”

The CFAO was repealed in 1992 by the Government of Canada, after a court challenge by an openly gay military member, thereby allowing LGBT people to proudly serve in the Canadian Armed Forces free from harassment and discrimination.

Corporal Cory Hirst, stationed at Canadian Forces Base Borden, believes that pride events like the Toronto Pride Parade highlight how far the military has come. “For me being a regular force [member] has been great. My unit has accepted me and my partner with no issues at all. My partner whom my CO has made us common law and who has offered to marry us, has been more [supportive] than I have ever imagined.”

It was only in 2008 when members of the Canadian Armed Forces first represented the military in Toronto's annual Gay Pride Parade. Many CAF members marching in the parade believe their presence sends a message that the Canadian military is inclusive and an equal-opportunity employer. “This is the 6th parade in which I have marched in uniform,” said Commander Johnston, reflecting on his participation in the parade. “As usual we were very warmly welcomed. I have never seen or heard a negative reaction or comment.   I had an excellent time. It is really heartwarming to see people so happy to see us.”

Corporal Hirst also believes that participating in events like the Pride Parade is a way to demonstrate how the Canadian Armed Forces is an inclusive organization. “I’ve marched in the Pride Parade for the past five years so I can show that just because we are gay we can do anything we want, even serve our country, he said, “Love is love. [It] makes me happy that we all can feel we belong.”

 “We are only beginning to make inclusiveness of Trans people within the [Canadian Armed] Forces a priority. We still have a long way to go,” says Lieutenant-Commander Stainton, however, the fact that the CAF participates in the Toronto Pride Parade is sending a message that the military is trying to be as inclusive and diverse as the population it serves.

By Lonny Kates, Army Public Affairs

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