Martine Roy was 19 when she joined the Canadian military in 1981. The job had never really been on her radar, but her father thought it would be a good fit.
“I thought I was doing my country a favour,” she said in an interview. “I thought I was doing something good.”
Those presumptions didn’t last. Instead, Roy said, military brass suspected she was gay. She had a boyfriend at the time but had met a girl. During interrogations she admitted as much.
“I was honest,” Roy said.
Her honesty didn’t pay off. Roy said she was dishonourably discharged from the military for being homosexual, just two years after signing up.
“You kind of feel dirty,” she said. “You were dismissed for something that’s very personal, you feel like you were seen almost naked.”
Roy isn’t alone. According to professor Gary Kinsman, hundreds, if not thousands, of gay and lesbian Canadians were kicked out of the military and public service beginning in the 1950s because their homosexuality was seen as a weakness that could make them vulnerable to the “enemy.”
“This is not just something that affected a couple of individuals here and there ,” he said. “This was systematic, sustained state practice over many decades.”
Kinsman and Roy are part of the “We Demand an Apology Network”. The group formed to ask for an official apology from the government for purging gay and lesbian Canadians from the military and public service.
Last year, the NDP took up the group’s cause, and introduced a motion asking the then-Tory government to apologize. The apology never came.
Then, earlier this week, the Liberal government signaled it is going to review the cases of Canadians imprisoned for being gay prior to 1969 for possible pardons.
Roy, Kinsman and other members of the group were pleased to hear the news, but want the government to go a step further and apologize to those kicked out of the military and public service.
“The government has started to do something good but it needs to really broaden and extend it,” Kinsman said.
Global News reached out to the federal government, and a spokesperson for the Minister of National Defence said the apology is being “considered.”
No timeline was provided.
“The Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence are committed to the principles of equality and dignity for all,” Jordan Owens wrote in an email.
Roy thinks acknowledging past wrongdoings is key to upholding that principle.
“We’re telling everyone around the world how inclusive we are,” she said. “We have to come from the right place.”
Roy says her dismissal still affects her, but what happened to her caused her to become an advocate.
She works for IBM, representing Quebec for Pride at Work Canada.