As I grow older, I find myself looking back on the things I have done in my life and the decisions I have made along the way.
I suspect that most of us could identify at least a couple of circumstances where we wish we could go back in time and do things differently in order to spare a loved one from a painful experience or to prevent a hurtful situation from arising in the first place. We are not given this opportunity and the best we can do is to take ownership of our decisions and actions and, when necessary, apologize to those who have been harmed and make redress if such is required.
In recent years, governments in this country have been engaged in the process of issuing official apologies to various groups in Canadian society — most notably First Nations citizens — who have been harmed by government policies throughout our history.
While such apologies can’t change the harm that has been done, they do acknowledge this harm and can provide a bridge whereby healing and reconciliation can take place, allowing groups harmed to move forward and take their full place in Canadian society. It appears that this time has finally come for members of the LGBTQ community.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that an official apology will be coming Nov. 28 in the House of Commons to members of the LGBTQ community who were criminally charged or fired from the military or civil service because of their sexual orientation. This stems from a government program that started in the 1950s under the rationale of national security to purge anyone who was identified as LGBTQ from the military and public service, which resulted in thousands of Canadians losing their jobs. Additionally, prior to 1966 when the laws changed, many Canadians were criminally convicted of gross indecency because they were gay. The apology on Nov. 28 is the first step and it is expected that before the end of the year, legislation will be introduced that will issue pardons to all who were convicted because of consensual sexual activity with a same-sex partner.
It appears that this time has finally come for members of the LGBTQ community.
In moving forward with this apology, Prime Minister Trudeau will be making good on a promise he made to the LGBTQ community during the last election campaign. While it would be naive to believe that there are no political motivations behind this apology, the prime minister has shown in a number of actions throughout the years that he supports the equality of the LGBTQ community, and he has done so in words and in actions since his election.
More important than the political aspect of this move is my belief that it is the right thing to do in order to help those affected to heal and move forward and validate their value as members of the Canadian family. Whether there will be financial compensation for those involved will be determined later as there is presently court action around this issue.
While I was not personally affected by these past policies, I did grow up in an era in which my life experience was impacted by them. When I was teaching high school back in the late 1980s, I kept my sexual orientation secret for fear that I would lose my job if it was discovered, regardless of my skills as a teacher.
The entire LGBTQ community of my generation and those before it lived in the shadow of the laws and policies this apology is about, and while we have made major steps forward in recent decades, our community continues to be affected, with our youngest members being at highest risk of suicide, bullying and homelessness. This apology will not change this overnight, but it does affirm that the previous policies have had a major impact on my community and, most importantly, says that someone is sorry for the pain we endured; this makes it easier to put the past behind us and move forward in building a healthier and happier community.
Brian Hodder is an LGBTQ activist and works in the field of mental health and addictions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.