August 27, 2017 9:11 pm

Canada’s top general makes history in joining Justin Trudeau at gay pride parade

WATCH: Justin Trudeau, top general march in Ottawa's annual pride parade


OTTAWA — When Scott Poll signed up to join Canada’s armed forces in 1989, he couldn’t let it be known he was gay.

Why? Because it was illegal in 1989 to be a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender armed forces member.

In fact, it was not until 1992 that the rule was changed and LGBTQ members could be, well, straight about their sexuality.

WATCH: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Ottawa Pride

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But a rule change is one thing, a culture change is quite another.

And it’s taken 25 years for Poll — now a sergeant — and other LGTBTQ members in the military to feel comfortable enough to say that being gay is hardly an issue anymore.

“It’s almost to the point — not quite — that it’s a non-issue to be a minority in the Forces,” Poll said Sunday, minutes before marching in Ottawa‘s annual Pride Parade.

WATCH: Canadian Forces marching band plays Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’

“It wasn’t talked about when I joined, although there were members of the LGBTQ group in the Forces, but it was very underground. And now, it’s just a non-issue, really. The Forces has embraced diversity, which it should. And it feels great. It feels great to be a part of this. Like you matter. And that your sexuality isn’t an issue any more.”

One of the reasons for the culture change is a change of attitude in the most senior leadership of the Canadian Forces.

On Sunday, Gen. Jonathan Vance, Canada’s top soldier, became the first chief of defence staff in the country’s history to march in a Pride Parade.

READ MORE: Canadian military encouraged by top soldier to attend Pride events in uniform

“For me, being here today is a sign of solidarity and leadership for people of the armed forces who are of this community,” Vance said. “They need encouragement too. I also want to be really sure people understand that the armed forces is a great place to work and a welcoming environment. If you’ve got what it takes to be in the armed forces, I want Canadian youth to seriously consider a career in the armed forces, no matter [what] community they come from.”

WATCH: Former LGBTQ military members demand apology from Ottawa

Vance was accompanied by about 100 members of the armed forces, including top generals and admirals. He wants there to be no mistake about the message he’s sending.

“It’s very important for an armed forces to represent its country throughout it’s length and its breadth. It binds the armed forces more closely to the country,” Vance said. “We know for sure that a more diverse workforce of incredible talent drawn from across Canadian society — and particularly Canadian youth — will make us as strong as we can be in the future. Failure to do that, we will not be capitalizing on the excellence that is in the Canadian population.”

OTTAWA – Sgt. Scott Poll, who is gay and has served in the Canadian Forces since 1989, prepares to march and perform in his first-ever Pride Parade in Ottawa on August 27, 2017.

DAVID AKIN/Global News

And marching behind Vance and the generals? The Parade Band of the Ottawa-based Central Band of the Canadian Forces — which includes Sgt. Poll.

“It’s the first time in history that this band has performed in the gay pride parade. It’s the first time in my entire career and I’m very excited about it. I’m a gay man myself so I’m thrilled to be a part of this,” Poll said. “I’m thrilled that the [Chief of Defence Staff] is here representing the Forces, showing that the Forces is inclusive, that it wants diversity in the military and we’re all very proud. I’m a proud Canadian and I’m proud to be part of the Canadian Forces.”

WATCH: Canadian Forces marching band plays Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’

Poll picked some of the music for the parade and he went right for the gay stereotypes of his generation — Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”, The Pointer Sisters’ “I’m So Excited”, and Abba’s “Dancing Queen.” All performed, of course, by a 30-piece military brass band. “And we’ve got a few marches throw in for good measure.”

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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