Canadian Armed Forces: potential solutions to putting an end to homophobia and transphobia

By WebmestreHome, News

Pascal Vaillancourt
Executive Director, Interligne
Former member of the Canadian Armed Forces

Along with many of you I watched the October 25, 2016 episode of TVA’s “J.E.” that profiled blatant homophobia in the Canadian Armed Forces in the 1980’s and 90’s. My thoughts are with the victims who faced these acts against human dignity. It is my sincerely hope that their voices are heard and that the Armed Forces and federal government acknowledge their request for compensation.

The day following this particular episode, I heard the following comment from a few people around me: “Yes, but it is no longer like this, things have changed in the Armed Forces”. Since the 80’s and 90’s, there has been an evolution since chasing gays and lesbians from the military, but in my experience of serving in the Armed Forces from 2000 to 2016, I heard more than my fair share of homophobic, lesbophobic and transphobic comments which were designed to humiliate.

To put an end to homophobia, the Canadian Armed Forces must acknowledge persisting challenges, improve upon existing directives, enforce a zero-tolerance policy and affirm the Forces’ acceptance of sexual and gender identity.

Enforce the Department of National Defence’s Statement of Ethics

The first principal referenced in the Department of National Defence’s (DND) Ethical Principles defends the dignity of all people. This principle is defined by the appreciation of diversity and the advantage of combining the unique qualities and strengths that are inherent in a diverse workforce. We can therefore conclude that the Canadian Forces have an inclusive ethical code, but that the time has come to exercise greater leadership as to how the code is applied.

Exceptional leadership exists in the Armed Forces, but some members of the military continue to build the character of their recruits by perpetuating sexist values and gender stereotypes. Negative stereotypes, sexist slurs, homophobic and transphobic behaviour must be eradicated and make way for innovative ways to value the qualities  of every member of the Armed Forces. To do this effectively, awareness campaigns must be disseminated and training programs updated.

Include sexual and gender diversity as part of awareness programs and training sessions

As a member of the Armed Forces, I participated in DND training sessions on abuse, discrimination as well as harassment prevention, and was certified by the DND as advisor in harassment prevention. The training was accompanied with a responsibility to act when unacceptable situations occur and when team members ask for, or are seeking help. It is also important to note that it is compulsory for each unit in the Armed Forces to have colleagues that are trained in harassment prevention.

The above-mentioned training programs as well as the directives from the Defence Administrative Orders and Directives (DAODs) and the Canadian Forces Administrative Orders (CFAOs) clearly outline the codes of conduct regarding harassment, discrimination, abuse of power and sexual misconduct. DAODs and CFAOs also mention that the military is subject to Canadian law as it relates to human rights and harassment.

Training programs and awareness tools on racial and sexual discrimination exist in the armed forces but they need to be revised to incorporate sexual and gender diversity. In addition, the leadership at each level must be prepared to respond to acts of homophobia and transphobia and to provide support and resources for transitioning and transgender employees. There must be zero tolerance on discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans people in the Armed Forces.

Promote the creation of committees or resource groups for gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans (LGBTQ+) employees and their allies

Training sessions and codes of conduct are compulsory at DND, but they are not enough. To demonstrate support for the LGBTQ+ communities, the top management must support the creation of LGBTQ+ committees or groups. The establishment of such groups would expose Armed Forces colleagues to the realities of sexual and gender diversity. Themes such as heteronormativity, gender expression or intersectionality could be addressed in annual awareness activities, for example, with the hopes of changing the attitudes in the Armed Forces.

Demonstrate inclusive values and openness

Adopting effective policies means having a plan in place to support and enforce them. The top management of the Canadian Forces must be unified in expressing their openness to sexual orientation and gender identity. The expression of this openness must not bean individual choice because they are par of the institution’ values. Working for the Armed Forces should be associated with inclusive attitudes toward all forms of diversity.

The Armed Forces can demonstrate openness by creating posters that portray the LGBTQ+ communities favourably. They can also participate in Pride celebrations across Canada. The Forces have military bands that participate in ceremonies but also perform in community activities. It is my belief that the LGBTQ+ communities and the general population would greately appreciate the participation of the Royal 22nd Regiment band during the Pride Parade. It is also my belief that many soldiers, regardless of their sexual orientation, would like to show their support for the LGBTQ+ communities by participating in Pride parades.

There are senior officers, junior officers, commissioned members of the forces and civilians that are members of the LGBTQ+ communities. A clear policy that reflects respect for members of LGBTQ+ people in the armed forces is a first step, but we need leaders who are consistent in their actions, lead by example and foster a climate of openness and inclusion. It must begin by assuming responsibility for and correcting the mistakes of the past and present, and opening the dialogue to build a more open and inclusive environment.

About Interligne

Interligne is a Canada-wide bilingual helpline and information centre for people concerned with questions related to sexual orientation and gender identity. Our services are free, anonymous, confidential and available 24/7.