On Being a Queer Veteran

Policies like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” have been a stamp of military culture across the world, even in the most liberal countries like the United States and Canada. Thus, many veterans have fought as a closeted member of the LGBTQ* community.

The image of sexuality within military policies may have changed, but the culture surrounding military behaviour and queerness still remains an issue. Many members of the Canadian Armed Forces are able to come out to their colleagues, but that doesn’t mean that it’s any easier for individuals now in today’s society.

WWII Veteran Captain Ken Tillberg, who served as a Forces Signal officer and is openly gay, said, “For me, it is incredibly important to openly recognize the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer officers. Their voices are often silenced by homophobic and transphobic cultures in the forces that still exist today.”

Earlier this fall at the Pride Parlimentary Panel, the Canadian Centre for Sexual and Gender Diversity (CCSGD) told 130 parliamentarians that an apology to those dishonourably discharged for their sexuality and gender was not enough, and that there need to be efforts to combat cultures and systems of discrimination within the armed forces. A full report from the panel is expected in a few weeks.

“It is important to be visible and take action,” said Captain Tillberg. “The issues facing LGBTQ communities are not just legal limitations, but fundamental barriers that oppress and discriminate us.”

In an interview with the Muse, the Minister of National Defense, Harjit Sajjan said there is no discrimination in the military toward LGBTQ* persons and says that if there is, the military wants to know about it immediately to stomp it out.

“Combat breaks down barriers, no one cares if you’re a man or a woman, if you’re from a different ethnic community, or your sexual orientation – it does not matter.”

Sajjan says he has colleagues in the military who are openly very proud of being a part of the LGBTQ* community.

“It should not be an issue in the Canadian Armed Forces, everyone is welcome regardless of your gender, sexuality, or ethnicity.”