LGBT ban in the military: Ex-soldiers share their painful stories
These women served in the Canadian military in the 1980s, at a time when CFAO 19-20 was still in place: a ban on homosexuality in the armed forces. They were interrogated, intimidated and dismissed because they were gay. Each has a painful story to share.
- Read the main story 'Emotional scars remain for gay ex-military subjected to interrogations, dismissals'
- View original CFAO 19-20 order, banning homosexuality in the Canadian military
View a timeline of anti-LGBT policy in the Canadian military
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Suzanne Thibault, 53
Suzanne was just 17 when she joined the army – she had to seek authorization from her mother.
She served in the army as a mobile support equipment operator (MSE-OP) 935 from 1980 to 1988, then joined the reserve militia until 1994. Being in the military was her pride and joy.
She was first questioned by the military police about her sexual orientationin 1981 and remembers feeling petrified. She lied about who she was, because she knew being gay in the military was forbidden.
Suzanne said she was followed, interrogated and investigated for some four years. It made her a very anxious person – always looking over her shoulder, always wondering when they would take her out of class.
She left the military on her own, but said her heart and soul had already been broken.
She still likes to use her army nickname – Jujube.
Johanne Boutin, 53
Johanne joined the military in 1980 and trained to become a medical assistant. It was during her training she said the interrogation into her sexual orientation began, and included questions that were extremely personal.
She remembers being sequestered for three days in a small room with very little light and no clock.
At first, she said, she thought it was part of the training - that they wanted to see at what point she'd break. She realized, though, that wasn’t the case.
She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the military, and they issued 10 electroshock therapy treatments.
She left the military in 1989.
Johanne says the Canadian Armed Forces "stole and destroyed her life," and that still to this day, she is very fragile due to the experience.
Martine Roy, 53
Martine joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1983 at 19 years old and trained to be a medical assistant.
Martine says she went through hours and hours of interrogation about her sexual orientation. At one point, she was under the impression that if she admitted her sexual orientation, she could stay – but months later, she was dismissed.
She was dishonourably discharged in 1985 for homosexuality.
Martine said she took drugs, and ended up in a rehab centre where she got sober and found began working there.
Still to this day, though, she is worried that what happened to her in the army could happen again.
Martine is very involved with Pride at Work Canada, which helps companies form employee resource groups for the LGBT community. The group began with eight companies and now works with 72.
She said her experience with the Canadian Forces was “like you're saving somebody from the water and then they sue you for saving them. It's something that doesn't make sense."
She said she would like an apology and is ready to hear what the government has to say.
Martine is also a new mom. She and her partner have an eight month-old daughter.
Diane Vincent, 60
Diane was enlisted in the army from 1976 to 1982, ending her military career as a corporal and recruitment instructor.
She trained Johanne and Suzanne, but at that time, none knew of each other's experiences.
It took her more than ten years to recover from how she was treated during her time in the army, saying that at some point, they just kept hounding her that she was so exhausted, she finally gave up and admitted she was gay.
She was released because of her sexual orientation.
The army was Diane’s life -- she says she would have worked 20 hours a day, seven days a week if she could, and now feels betrayed by the armed forces.
Diane said she would appreciate an apology, adding that there were people she worked closely with who were fine with her being gay, but the establishment wanted her out.
Line Blackburn, 55
Line joined the Canadian forces in the 80's, adopting the nickname Blackie.
She says she was kicked out because she is a lesbian.
Line says they said because of her sexual orientation, she was "considered a risk to security."
She says her experience humiliated her, leaving her self-esteem at “zero.”
At one point, Line considered suicide.
A passion for motorcycles, to this day Line wonders if that passion is to compensate for the feelings of emptiness she feels after being ejected from the military.
She, too, has been involved in LGBT rights at her workplace.
Set to retire soon, Line said she is concerned about isolating herself, because she will now be required to take care of herself.
Line says now is the time that all her suffering is returning – and it's now that she needs help.
Brigitte joined the army in the 1980s.
Injured while she was based in Bagotville, she also witnessed the crash of an F-18 fighter jet.
About three years ago, Brigitte says Veteran Affairs Canada closed down the Sherbrooke office, so there were fewer resources available to veterans
She began, through word of mouth from other veterans groups and associations, to help people who didn’t realize they were eligible for help, eventually founding Soutien et Entraide Veteran Canada.
Resources are out there, she said, but added there is still work to be done to make sure veterans all know what they can receive them. She also says that sometimes post-traumatic stress disorder manifests itself years after a person has left the military and that person may never even consider they could help or benefits from Veterans Affairs Canada.
Brigitte says they will help the veteran sift through the paperwork and see what a person could be eligible for in terms of benefits including psychological help.
She says helping others helps her, that it's become part of her own therapy.
Brigitte says she feels there is more openness on the part of Veterans Affairs Canada, that she feels MPs are listening to what the needs are and is hopeful things will change.
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