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Michelle Douglas'
 struggle in ending
in Canada's military

by Denny Meyer

The United States of America's northern neighbor Canada, with whom we share a 5,525 mile border, has allowed open service by LGBT patriots since 1992, as have most of our allied nations.  Is there a clear and present danger that the homosexual hordes of Canada's defence forces will flood across our sacred border in an infidel invasion, shouting incomprehensible French battle cries?  Its not bloody likely; in fact gay Americans have been traveling into Canada since 2003 to marry and enjoy the hospitality, hockey and holidays under the maple leaf flag. 

In Canada, in 1989, Second Lieutenant Michelle Douglas was honorably dismissed due to homosexuality.  She subsequently sued based on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which was found to provide constitutional protection of the rights of LGBT citizens.  The military settled the case by ending its discriminatory policy. Ms. Douglas is, thus, essentially single-handedly responsible for the entire change of policy regarding LGBT service in Canada.  The policy later evolved to recognize protection for transgender volunteers as well; and encompasses perhaps the world's most thoroughly inclusive armed force affirmation of rights.  In Canada, it seems, there are no caveats or exceptions nor pragmatic excuses or arguments for exclusion.  The military has ongoing training regarding respect and dignity and a policy of zero tolerance for harassment.  It is the first nation to have held a same sex wedding of uniformed military personnel.

Michelle Douglas (center)  at Georgetown University Law Center Conference on
Sexual Orientation and Military Preparedness An International Perspective, March 12, 2008
L-R: Stuart O'Brien (Au), Patrick Lyster-Tidd, (UK), Michelle Douglas (Canada),  Avner Evan-Zohar( Israel), Mike Rankin (US)

In addition, according to a Palm Center white paper, full partner benefits are available to all of Canada's service members, including compassionate leave and partner entitlement to dental care and health care plans as dependents, among other standard benefits.  Although equality and not economics guided the Canadian decision making process, the Palm Center's paper notes that "In April 1999, a report by the National Defence revealed that 17 claims for medical, dental and relocation benefits for gay and lesbian partners of soldiers had been filed in 1998."  So much for fears of breaking the national treasury, it seems.

(It should also be noted that the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has just announced, in December 2008, full partner benefits; and Israel has provided combat death benefits to partners for years; despite the fact that neither country allows same sex marriages to be performed). In the US, on the other hand, The Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would repeal the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, specifically excludes partner benefits, unless DOMA is repealed.

Michelle Douglas grew up in the Maritime Province of Nova Scotia.  Her father was a civil servant and a great uncle had served in World War II.  After completing a university degree, Michelle began to apply for police work and the military was the first to respond.  In 1986, she graduated at the top of her class in Officer's Basic training and became an Air Force MP.  As Canada is officially bilingual, she then attended a language training course near Montreal where she met a woman with whom she fell in love.  What could be more natural for a young person starting out in life and career?  Despite being discreet about this new relationship, she knew that the military disapproved of such relationships, but she had no idea of the dire consequences she was about to face.  Meanwhile, she finished as the top candidate in her career training course, above males in the same program.  She became the second female officer to be appointed to the Special Investigations Unit.  Unfortunately, this unit was, among other things, responsible for investigating allegations of homosexuality, alas.  Her friends, consequently, shied away; her lover left her and moved away.  She was devastated.  At the same time, someone had reported to the MP authorities that she'd been spending a lot of time with a woman; this resulted in an investigation.  She was interrogated for two days about her social life, asked if she was gay, and was ordered to take a polygraph test which she refused to do.  She also refused to reveal with whom she associated.  But, under the intense pressure of such an investigation, she ultimately said that she was a lesbian; although she had not yet come to apply the label of being a lesbian to herself, instead she'd simply loved another woman.  Her MP badge was removed, and after serving temporarily as a general's aid, she was sent home to await a final disposition of her case.  She was 'released honorably' in 1989.  The terminology was, "Not advantageously employable due to homosexuality," (which quoted directly from a Canadian military regulation on the subject).

At the time, the Canadian military orders allowed known homosexuals to continue serving, but permitted no promotions, no pay raises, no postings, and no training.  In other words, you were in but you were out, as it were.

Her family, meanwhile, was supportive.  In keeping with Canadian culture, they were not shocked to find that she was a lesbian, but they were outraged at her treatment by the military.

Ms. Douglas decided to legally challenge her dismissal.  She sued.  Canadian law by this time, was evolving to offer some protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation; and the military, really, was not entitled to an exception to that law.  In 1992, on the eve of the trial, the military settled, declaring that her constitutional rights had been violated, and that she'd been discriminated against.  An immediate order, directly from the Chief of the Defence Staff, was issued ending the policy of discrimination.

While discrimination does not suddenly end with an order, Ms. Douglas noted, militaries are well suited to following orders and instituting sensitivity training.  As elsewhere, there had been dire warnings that esprit d'corps, morale, and operational effectiveness would be compromised by a change in policy; but, as elsewhere, none of that happened in Canada either.  Patriotic gay and straight Canadians are serving and sacrificing in Afghanistan, alongside American troops, getting the job done.  She notes that it has been nearly 17 years since she won her case.  Gay service is no longer an issue in Canada; she finds it hard to imagine that such freedom still does not exist elsewhere.  While she had had no intention to become an activist, she said, she was resolute in standing up for human rights. She has gone on to speak out on this issue in Canada, the US and in Europe. It seems that the need for people to speak up remains.

Washington DC, March 12 2008: Michelle Douglas with Avner Evan-Zohar( Israel)
 and  Australian Defence Force Chief Petty Officer Stuart O'Brien

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