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Pride in service

2SLGBTQI+ Canadians in uniform

Members of Canada's 2SLGBTQI+ community have made important military contributions. They have seen pride and achievement and discrimination and persecution. Discover and recognize this important part of Canada's military history.



For most of Canada’s history, the military officially barred members of the 2SLGBTQI+ community from serving in uniform. This legacy of discrimination meant most of their stories were deeply buried. Recent research has brought more of these inspiring and heartbreaking stories to light.

The story of 2SLGBTQI+ military service in our country involves many trailblazing Canadians. Historical records cannot always tell the full story. This text offers an overview but we recognize that each Veteran has their own narrative. What you will read here does not reflect everyone’s experience. We are sharing these stories to add to our collective experience on 2SLGBTQI+ military service. We thank these individuals for sharing their stories. We encourage you to discover and recognize this important part of Canada’s military history.

This content involves potentially painful subject matter that explores the history of discrimination and harm suffered by 2SLGBTQI+ service members. Some readers may be personally affected by this content. If you are impacted, help is available.

If you are a Veteran, family member or caregiver the support of a mental health professional is available 24/7, 365 days a year at no cost to you. Call 1-800-268-7708.


The Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and additional sexually and gender diverse community has always been present in Canada. The members of this community have also served in uniform throughout our history. Many 2SLGBTQI+ men, women and gender-diverse people from different backgrounds and cultures have made important military contributions. At the same time, their country long denied them equal rights.

Canadian Armed Forces members raising the pride flag at CFB North Bay in July 2019.
Credit: Department of National Defence NB01-2019-180-3

2SLGBTQI+ people in the Canadian military have seen pride and achievement—and discrimination and persecution. As our society has evolved, so have the attitudes surrounding their service. Generations of Veterans have persisted to break down barriers. Thanks to their efforts, members of this community in the Canadian Armed Forces no longer face many of these barriers. There is still work to do to achieve true equity, but 2SLGBTQI+ Canadians have made major strides towards legal equity and acceptance.

Pre-First World War era

Early Canada

Before the arrival of Europeans, Indigenous cultures across Turtle Island (now known as North America) had many different gender roles and systems. Many of these recognized genders fell outside colonial understandings of man and woman. These inclusive attitudes are still found in many Indigenous cultures today. Some Indigenous warriors from our country’s earliest history were what we might now consider gender and sexually-diverse. As such, they were the first combatants in this land who could be considered members of the 2SLGBTQI+ community. Many more would follow.

Europeans arrive

The European colonists who arrived in Canada brought very different norms and attitudes with them. For early settlers, gender and sexuality roles and their related identities were much more limited. These identities were rigid. They upheld the dominant norms of heterosexuality and marriage between a man and woman. Restrictive laws also enforced this sense of only two gender identities and one sexual orientation.

Since ancient times, sexual and gender diversity has existed. During the medieval to modern period, however, countries created laws against same-sex acts and relationships both in wider society and within the military. The dominant religions of the day also banned them.

Harsh barriers

In North America, as far back as the French regime in Quebec in the 1600s, there are records of military personnel arrested on what were called “sodomy charges.” These were regulations against sexual or romantic practices different from the heterosexual norm. This means some stories from Canada’s past about 2SLGBTQI+ service members are only found in court records.

These harsh barriers did not improve under British rule. As late as the 19th century, some forms of same-sex sexual relationships were punished by life sentences or even execution. Over time, the tools used to persecute 2SLGBTQI+ people in Canada evolved. In the 1890s the legal code was changed to include so-called “gross indecency” laws. These laws were purposely vague. They could include anything showing same-sex attraction such as simple touching, dancing and kissing. Direct evidence was often not required. Accused people could be convicted based on rumour only.

Canadian soldiers in the South African War (1899 – 1902).
Credit: Canadian War Museum

As in the wider society, members of this community faced discrimination in the Canadian military. Serving in uniform as an openly 2SLGBTQI+ person during this era was not really possible. The military culture valued exaggerated ideals of settler masculinity. Military members had to strictly adhere to expected gender norms. If not, people were vulnerable to backlash from other soldiers and their superior officers. They could also face punishment through the military justice system.

First World War

Did you know?

The First World War erupted in Europe in August 1914. It was a massive conflict and Canada’s military had to quickly expand. Many people rushed to enlist and more than 650,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders served in uniform by the time the conflict ended in November 1918.

Despite the many barriers they faced, 2SLGBTQI+ Canadian service members persevered to make their own personal contributions to the war effort. Many would also lose their lives. These fallen heroes are among the more than 66,000 Canadians who died during the First World War.

Courts martial

Canadians from all walks of life put their lives on the line during the conflict. Some of them, however, did not fit into the expected gender or sexual orientation categories of the day. The unjust policies of that era meant many 2SLGBTQI+ people and their stories have been erased or hidden. Only traces are found in official records, mainly courts martial transcripts. These lay out the charges against soldiers caught in what were considered compromising situations.

Courts martial were common during the two world wars. Originally authorized by the 1881 Army Act and the Naval Discipline Act of 1866, they typically saw a tribunal of military officers acting as judges. Courts martial covered a broad list of offences. The most common ones included being drunk on duty or absent without leave.

Sometimes people found in seemingly same-sex encounters faced charges for various offences. The main charge was gross indecency. This mirrored the criminal code in Canada as a whole at the time. Military gross indecency charges fell under various sections of the Army Act. In general, this law had vague definitions the military could use to prosecute 2SLGBTQI+ individuals. Canadian service members were subject to these laws, even for their actions in France or Belgium where the related laws were less strict.

Soldiers of the 13th Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada) gather in a trench on the front lines in December 1917.
Credit: Library and Archives Canada

Soldiers caught up in these discriminatory laws could end up with harsh prison sentences. They could also face dishonourable discharge or be held back from advancement.

Drag performers

Despite the discrimination against members of this community, some elements of 2SLGBTQI+ culture were popular. During the war years, male actors often dressed in drag during shows that army entertainers gave for soldiers.

Members of the First World War performing troupe “The Dumbells”.
Credit: Library and Archives Canada

The Canadian Expeditionary Force had several of these performing troupes. The Dumbells were the most famous. The soldiers loved seeing the female personas on stage. The best drag performers even became minor celebrities.

Second World War

Did you know?

The Second World War erupted in September 1939. More than one million Canadians had served in uniform by the time the conflict finally came to an end in August 1945. The fighting raged on battlefields around the globe and more than 45,000 Canadians died. This massive war impacted our country’s society in many ways—including members of the 2SLGBTQI+ community.

A chance to grow

Many Canadians who did not fit the rigid traditional gender and heterosexual expectations of the era faced the threat of persecution and violence. On top of wartime service being dangerous and stressful, 2SLGBTQI+ recruits faced additional harassment. Despite this, many viewed serving in the Second World War as a way to find others like themselves, a community and a sense of friendship. It gave some of them refuge from the hostile society at home. For some, the war was a kind of break from the strict, heterosexual-centric Canadian experience. It was also an opportunity for self-discovery for 2SLGBTQI+ service members.

Hiding their identity

Once again, the military drove 2SLGBTQI+ people to conceal their gender and/or sexual identities. Otherwise, they faced severe penalties. For example, all new recruits were given a formal medical examination to assess their perceived physical and mental fitness for service. The Canadian military’s medical authorities classified members of the 2SLGBTQI+ community as “psychopathic personalities.” Similar terms included “chronic delinquents, chronic alcoholics and drug addicts.” In this greatly flawed evaluation, they were officially regarded as “medically unfit for service anywhere in any capacity.”

Different laws

As in the First World War, regulations existed for use against 2SLGBTQI+ people who managed to enlist. The two main tools were the Army and Air Force Act and the Naval Discipline Act. But these laws were not used against Canadian servicewomen during the Second World War.

This difference helps illustrate how Canadian women have faced their own challenges when trying to serve in uniform. The discriminatory policies that persecuted 2SLGBTQI+ men were not used against women until later. However, service women had to endure many barriers during this conflict. The military culture prioritized heteronormative masculinity and did not see women as being equal to men.

Members of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps at a training base in Ontario in 1944.
Credit: Library and Archives Canada

The military’s reaction

The official response to 2SLGBTQI+ people in uniform varied greatly. The authorities could press charges. Possible penalties included detention or prison sentences at labour camps, dishonourable discharge, or release for “reasons other than medical.” Some accused service members were also forced to talk with psychologists. A common outcome for those found guilty of “disgraceful conduct of [an] unnatural kind” was time in custody. After serving their sentences, many returned to service. Officers were much less likely to be convicted of these kinds of charges than enlisted ranks. If found guilty though, an officer was more likely to be discharged than an enlisted member.

Sometimes official knowledge of a soldier’s “deviant” sexuality did not lead to charges, punishment or a military discharge. The military accepted some men from the 2SLGBTQI+ community relatively openly. Why? Perceptions of how large an impact a serviceman’s sexuality could have on others in his unit sometimes played a role. The attitudes of their commanding officers and the military police most likely did, too. As well, the military was less likely to discharge them if it needed more combatants when the fighting was particularly bloody. Facing the high-pressures of war, many military members may have accepted their 2SLGBTQI+ comrades or simply ignored their sexual orientation.

Happy Canadian soldiers at the end of the Second World War.
Credit: Library and Archives Canada

This blind eye extended to much of the literature about the war. Members of this community were written out of history. Sexual or romantic activity between men was also often framed as a temporary outlet in a male-dominated environment.

Changes in society

2SLGBTQI+ people in the military faced frequent discrimination. At the same time, sub-cultures centered on this community blossomed in North American society. It was a complex time in history. Vibrant 2SLGBTQI+ communities evolved despite the more common conservative attitudes. These grew stronger when Veterans returned to civilian life after the war.

Through it all, 2SLGBTQI+ Canadians served their country and overcame many barriers. They served and sacrificed alongside their straight and cisgender comrades to help restore peace and freedom in the world.

Cold War era

Did you know?

The Cold War took place from the late 1940s to the early 1990s. At the time, much of the world was divided into two camps. The United States led the capitalist democracies of the “West.” The Soviet Union dominated the communist countries of the “East.”

Canada aligned itself with the West, as did the United States, Britain, France and many other democratic countries. The struggle never progressed to direct fighting between the two sides. But during the Cold War both sides built up their military forces, including nuclear weapons, to try to gain a strategic advantage. With international tensions high, espionage played an important role.

Security risks?

The Canadian government and military’s discrimination against 2SLGBTQI+ service members continued. It led to a post-war purge linked to dubious concerns about national security. Deep, negative attitudes existed toward members of the community during this era. This meant the Canadian Government could falsely depict them as potential security risks. It identified 2SLGBTQI+ people as possible targets for Soviet manipulation, especially members of the military, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the federal public service.

This was prejudiced and flawed reasoning. The government feared Soviet spies could blackmail 2SLGBTQI+ people. It believed the Soviets would force them to share secret information to avoid their sexuality becoming public. Once again, the government forced members of this community out of these sensitive jobs. This persecution campaign became known as the LGBT Purge, which brought great hardship and harm to many people.

Royal Canadian Air Force jet fighters at a military base in West Germany in 1963.
Credit: North American Treaty Organization

The internal war on 2SLGBTQI+ members

As the Cold War intensified in the 1950s, the Canadian military’s special investigative service sought out 2SLGBTQI+ service members more and more. Its goal? To completely remove them from the ranks. Ironically, the military also pressured all service members, whatever their sexual orientation, to report on colleagues who they suspected were “homosexuals”.

“Homosexual” is a word the Canadian military often used in its policies against 2SLGBTQI+ members. It was defined in a negative, derogatory way. The word is not used as much anymore but “homosexual” was a general term applied to individuals who are now referred to as 2SLGBTQI+.

The special investigative service blackmailed suspected 2SLGBTQI+ service members. They did this in the same way the government feared the Soviet Union would. In other words, the military gave them a “choice.” They could voluntarily leave the Canadian Armed Forces with an honourable discharge. If not, they faced courts martial and a dishonourable discharge, even if they had no access to sensitive security information. The military also tried to force them to turn in their friends.

The Fruit Machine

During the early Cold War era, the government began funding research into finding ways to “scientifically” identify 2SLGBTQI+ people. This flawed research led to the development of a device that became known as the “fruit machine.” It was named after a derogatory term for some members of this community.

The device tried to test an individual’s sexual orientation by monitoring the size of their pupils as they viewed erotic pictures. It was believed pupil dilation indicated sexual arousal. The test result was then used as evidence to pressure the individual to admit their “guilt.” However, test results were deemed inconclusive. By 1967, the fruit machine was dropped. It was decided that identifying homosexuality using this kind of technology was not possible.

The "fruit machine."
Credit: Canadian War Museum

Watch the documentary:

The Fruit Machine (2018)
In filmmaker Sarah Fodey's documentary, survivors of a decades-long homosexual witch-hunt recount their personal stories of dedication and betrayal at the hands of the Canadian government. Some softened by age and sadness, others loud and angry, the voices of the former public servants targeted in the purge are now united, and determined.

Persecution in the 1970s

A 1969 amendment to federal law partly decriminalized homosexual acts. Despite this, the Canadian Armed Forces issued a new Administrative Order CAFO 19-20. This order did not allow the “retention of sexual deviants in the Forces.” Backed by this tool, the military increased its persecution tactics toward suspected service members even more in the 1970s. This time, the discriminatory policies also targeted lesbians and other 2SLGBTQI+ women.

Women in general faced sexual and gender discrimination in the military. As a result, women who were members of this community experienced military life and discrimination differently than men. Accused women were forced to leave the military more often. This unjust treatment mirrored larger issues in the Canadian Armed Forces as it began to incorporate more women into its ranks. The systemic power structure excluded those who did not fit the heterosexual, man-dominated military culture. It created a climate of fear.

2SLGBTQI+ service members’ careers and survival depended on them living a double life. They kept their private lives, such as who they loved and were dating, hidden. They feared sanctions or dishonourable discharge if exposed. These members also feared being denied transfers or promotions. The military often harassed them, spied on them or tapped their telephones. It also pulled them in for questioning, without the ability to have any legal counsel. The military interrogated 2SLGBTQI+ service members using psychological techniques meant to break people down. These interrogations lasted for hours, days or months.

Investigators also harassed their friends, partners or spouses, and families. This persecution negatively impacted these individuals as well.

Military Police Special Investigation Unit members attached suspected 2SLGBTQI+ service members to lie detector machines. Some accused people were even sexually assaulted. These harsh, humiliating and traumatic practices of the military police took a heavy toll on the accused. Their lives and careers were often left in disarray, with lasting impacts on health, employment, volunteering possibilities and travel.

This discriminatory campaign against 2SLGBTQI+ military members continued through the 1980s and into the early 1990s. The military clarified its policies during this period to reinforce the persecution of these individuals. It expanded the rationale to include an unfair suggestion: those who identified as 2SLGBTQI+ could cause “interpersonal conflict.” The authorities claimed this could have a “detrimental effect” on the ability of the Canadian Armed Forces to carry out its duties.

A slow end to unjust policies

Despite the ongoing persecution, some military attitudes toward 2SLGBTQI+ service members did start to soften slowly in the 1980s. This reflected a shift in attitudes in Canadian society as a whole. But in the late 1980s, military authorities still encouraged members of the community to leave the military.

The CAFO 19-20 policy to remove them was still on the books. However, the military circulated a memo indicating that Commanding Officers did not have to automatically recommend the release of 2SLGBTQI+ members. Because of this, some were not forcibly removed. Instead, they had to agree to discharge due to their sexuality.

Those who were outed and refused discharge could continue to serve at the discretion of their superiors. The military denied any promotions, pay raises and any other chances for career growth, though. Despite its evolving practices and policies, the military continued to purge some 2SLGBTQI+ service members.

Post-Cold War

Discharged members fight back

In the fall of 1992, the CFAO 19-20 order that allowed the military to officially discriminate against 2SLGBTQI+ military members was finally ended.

This change was brought about as a result of a legal challenge against the Canadian Armed Forces.

In 1990, Michelle Douglas with three other 2SLGBTQI+ people courageously filed lawsuits against the military. These former Canadian Armed Forces members had suffered discrimination and release by the authorities. The case launched by Douglas was addressed first. The military settled out of court on 27 October 1992 and Douglas was awarded $100,000. As a result, the Federal Court of Canada ruled that “homosexual” individuals could now serve their country without fear of discharge from the military due to their sexual choices. This historic ruling formally ended the infamous CAFO 19-20 order. Military members who had been forced out for this reason could apply to rejoin the military. The ruling also removed all formal career restrictions.

Lieutenant Michelle Douglas in uniform.
Credit: Michelle Douglas.

Formal discrimination had ended. But great damage and suffering that is difficult to measure had been done to countless service members and their families. The number of people affected by the LGBT Purge from the 1950s to the 1990s will remain unknown, but it touched thousands of people.

Many were formally discharged. Others chose to leave voluntarily rather than be exposed or forced out. Others remained because they narrowly escaped detection and discharge. These Canadian Armed Forces members who were able to remain in uniform still had to endure the cruel investigations and surveillance. Others kept their personal lives deeply hidden and suffered a constant fear of discovery. What is certain is that all members of this community who served in uniform suffered from the misogynist, heterosexist, anti-2SLGBTQI+ military culture.

LGBT purge – Survivor stories

View this digital series on YouTube dedicated to the survivors of Canada’s LGBT purge.

Government of Canada apology

LGBT Purge survivors like Martine Roy, Darl Wood and Diane Pitre fought unsuccessfully for years to get the Canadian government to officially recognize the wrongs that had been done. However, things finally started to change in 2013 and 2014. Roy, Wood and Pitre, along with other 2SLGBTQI+ activists, academics and Purge survivors, were firmly demanding an apology for the discrimination they had suffered. 2SLGBTQI+ Canadians had put their lives on the line by joining the military and selflessly serving their country. But Canada told them they were not fit to serve because of who they were and who they loved. They were now standing up for the rights of others, even though their own rights had been trampled.

On 28 November 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered a formal apology to 2SLGBTQI+ Canadian Armed Forces personnel, Royal Canadian Mounted Police members and federal public servants. He apologized to all those harmed by the federal legislation, policies and practices that had discriminated against them.

This excerpt from the apology speaks to this unjust treatment:

For the oppression of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and two-spirit communities, we apologize. On behalf of the government, Parliament, and the people of Canada: We were wrong. We are sorry. And we will never let this happen again.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivering the official apology in 2017.
Credit: Government of Canada

Class action lawsuit

A year prior to the apology, Todd Ross, Martine Roy and Alida Satalic launched a nationwide major lawsuit against the government. These three strong individuals represented all 2SLGBTQI+ members who had been discriminated against from 1955 to 1995. This legal case is often referred to as the LGBT Purge class action. The suit was settled out of court on 28 March 2018.

The settlement included one of the largest financial settlements for 2SLGBTQI+ survivors in history. All survivors or class members must have submitted a form to the claim’s administrator in 2019 in order to be officially recognized.

The settlement included moneys to compensate the survivors—class action members who had applied–and for a special citation award for these individuals. It also allowed them to have a disclaimer included in their service records.

Service records are documents that contain extensive information on all individuals who enlisted. When a member leaves the military, service records are sent to Library and Archives Canada. Eventually they become publicly accessible. It was important to survivors that they did not look like criminals due to the military finding them guilty of “homosexuality” or dishonorably discharging them.

Class action funds were also set aside for 2SLGBTQI+ reconciliation and commemorative projects. The LGBT Purge Fund committee was set up to manage the funds and to monitor how the military would carry out its part of the settlement.

Canada Pride Citation

The Canadian Pride Citation is an individual reconciliation and recognition measure awarded to LGBT Purge class action members in recognition of their service to Canada and the hardships endured due to unjust policies.

Learn more about this citation.

The 2SLGBTQI+ national monument

A powerful new memorial in Ottawa will honour members of the 2SLGBTQI+ community. It will tell the story of generations of 2SLGBTQI+ people in Canada who have been discriminated against because of who they love and how they identify. This will include the story of the damage done by the LGBT Purge.

Concept drawing for the 2SLGBTQI+ Monument in Ottawa.
Credit: Design Team Wreford

This national monument will recognize the injury and injustice that members of this community suffered at the hands of the Canadian government. It will also educate, memorialize, celebrate, and inspire diversity and inclusion in our society.

The new 2SLGBTQI+ national monument is a key project of the LGBT Purge Fund, which is spearheading its creation. Completion of the memorial is planned for 2025. Learn more about this project.

Thunderhead was the design selected for the monument. Created by Team Wreford, it draws on the symbolism of a thunderhead cloud, which embodies the strength, activism and hope of 2SLGBTQI+ communities. Learn more about the design of the memorial.

Canadian Armed Forces today

Many openly 2SLGBTQI+ people have served in the Canadian Armed Forces in recent years. This includes enlisted personnel, junior officers and senior officers. Today the military’s employment policy reinforces their rights. It states, “…any member who can contribute to the operational effectiveness of a unit, military occupation or duty assignment is both eligible for and liable for such unrestricted employment.”

Master Seaman Francis Legare kissing partner Corey at CFB Esquimalt in February 2016. Legare had just come back from a long deployment aboard HMCS Winnipeg.
Credit: Department of National Defence ET2016-0056-17

This official recognition of gender and sexually diverse identities is also seen in other ways. Since 2005, the Canadian Armed Forces has followed Canadian civil regulations. The military has recognized same-sex marriages and common-law unions as equal to all other married or common-law serving members. These couples are supposed to receive the same formal benefits as heterosexual couples. Military chaplains can marry same-sex and other 2SLGBTQI+ couples on military bases. Pride Season is also regularly marked in the military. Pride flag raisings occur at bases across the country. Service members also sometimes participate in Pride Parades.

The challenges faced by 2SLGBTQI+ service members did not end with the removal of the military’s official discriminatory policies, though. Harassment and discrimination unfortunately still take place and work remains to be done. However, in this current era, there is movement toward equity, diversity and inclusivity for 2SLGBTQI+ people in the Canadian Armed Forces community.

2SLGBTQI+ Canadians in uniform have upheld peace and freedom at home and around the world. They deserve dignity and the protection of their own rights.

Royal Canadian Navy sailors marching in a Pride Parade in Toronto in June 2019.
Credit: Department of National Defence

Related information

LGBT Purge Fund

The LGBT Purge Fund is a not-for-profit corporation that was set up to manage the settlement funds from the 2018 class action lawsuit. The Board is composed of six members, and includes LGBT Purge survivors, class action plaintiffs and a representative of the legal team that challenged the Canadian government. Learn more about this fund.

Rainbow Veterans of Canada

The Rainbow Veterans of Canada is a not-for-profit organization founded by Diane Pitre. It was incorporated in 2019. This organization provides a supportive and safe space for CAF Veterans impacted by the LGBT Purge along with other CAF Veterans who identify as 2SLGBTQI+, while educating and advocating for the rights, benefits, and recognition our members deserve. Learn more about the Rainbow Veterans of Canada.

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