UNB News
News and stories from one of Canada’s top universities

Canada's LGBT purge, 30 years later: Todd Ross reflects

Author: Todd Ross

Posted on Nov 8, 2022

Category: UNB Saint John , UNB Fredericton

The 30th anniversary of the official end of the LGBT Purge in Canada was marked this year on Oct. 27. It was on this date in 1992 that a courageous young woman saw the results of her challenge to the Canadian government.

Michelle Douglas was a young officer in the military police who excelled in everything she did. She was investigated and fired simply for being gay. Top of her class, she was given an honourable discharge and told she was no longer “advantageously employable.”

Michelle hired a lawyer and challenged the Government of Canada. On the eve of the court date, the government settled the case. Part of that settlement included officially ending the LGBT Purge and the discriminatory employment policies for 2SLGBTQI+ people.

Between the 1950s and the 1990s, LGBT members of the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP and the federal public service were systemically discriminated against, harassed and often fired as a matter of policy and sanctioned practice.

In 1990, I was kicked out of the military for being gay. After serving for one year, I came under investigation from the military police. The investigation lasted for 18 months and when I finally came out, I was kicked out of the military with an honourable discharge.

I attended UNB Fredericton for a year beginning in the fall of 1991 and remember walking along Albert Street when a Globe and Mail headline featuring Michelle Douglas’ court challenge caught my eye. At this point, I had still not come out and had never shared my experience with anyone. I would certainly not have had Michelle’s courage at that age to be the public face challenging the Government of Canada.

When I was in the military, I kept in the closet; when I was released, I rarely spoke of being in the military. We refer to this as a double closet and it was very common for many purge survivors. As a result, very few purge survivors had met each until very recently.

Over the past 30 years most survivors kept to ourselves. There were a few exceptions of courageous individuals who constantly fought for an apology or recognition with little success. There were also some amazing researchers over the years who worked on highlighting the LGBT Purge. Dr. Carman Poulin and Dr. Lynne Gouliquer have done some exceptional work to reach out to LGBT Purge survivors and document our stories.

This changed in the last few years through the work of an incredible legal team and a group of activists. Three of us became the representative plaintiffs on the LGBT Purge class action lawsuit, but the launch of the suit itself became the opportunity for 2SLGBTQI+ veterans to finally come out of our second closet – to reclaim our identities as veterans and to regain our pride as people who served our country.

It was only five years ago that the Government of Canada apologized for the discrimination and harassment of 2SLGBTQI+ people in the federal civil service.

There is still discrimination in the military today and the culture continues to face huge challenges. However, there have been positive changes. The change of pace has been very slow but there are now openly gay people serving at every level and protections are in place for people to openly serve.

Many people who went through the LGBT Purge did not live to see this day, but we honour them and remember them. For those of us still around, we are proud to see more people learning about the LGBT Purge and that we are now being heard. Through the courage of Michelle Douglas and others, our stories are now being told.

Todd Ross is the Indigenous Advisor at UNB Saint John. He was one of the three representative plaintiffs in the Ross, Roy, Satalic V. Canada class action lawsuit and volunteers as the co-chair of Rainbow Veterans of Canada.