This year marked the first time that the Canadian Forces troops marched in Toronto Pride — in uniform.
Organizers of Hamilton Pride, held two weeks earlier, barred the Canadian Forces from their festival over what it said were human rights violations in countries where the Forces were serving — notably Haiti and Afghanistan. Canadian Forces (CF) recruiters hosted a booth at Hamilton Pride in 2007.
“We consider all invitations to Pride events,” says Department of National Defence rep Marie-Hélène Rouillard. “Our acceptance of an invitation is dependant on the availability of resources and whether we have any prior commitments to other events.”
So will Ottawa be welcoming them with open arms or giving them the cold shoulder?
“I’d love to see them there,” says Capital Pride boardmember Marion Steele. “We’d like to see the new Chief [of Defence Staff, Walter Natynczyk.] It would be nice to have him leading the troops.”
Steele also says that, while she cannot judge Hamilton Pride’s decision, she would keep those politics out of the parade.
“Having a queer military group has nothing to do with the political decisions of where we fight wars,” Steele says. “We support our queer troops in being queer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re supporting the war. I think we need to keep it really separate.”
Marching in the largest Pride parade in the country does make a statement — especially when you consider that our neighbours to the south, with whom we are allied in our mission to Afghanistan, have policies in place which prohibit gays and lesbians from serving openly.
“The CF is proud of and fully supports its soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen who belong to the [queer] community,” says Rouillard. “The CF seeks to be a first choice employer for Canadians, regardless of their gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation.”
Having uniformed soldiers marching in Pride parades speaks to a willingness of the Forces to see more queer Canadians join the ranks. But for the gay community, the military’s inclusion can also be seen as an endorsement of war. As Hamilton’s Pride planners pointed out.