‘It’s time we start telling the stories’: New exhibit showcases how queer community was targetted by Canadian government

A new exhibit at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) is highlighting how the queer community was targetted by the Canadian government, as Pride Month gets underway in June.

For more than four decades, some members of the armed forces, RCMP, and civil service were discriminated against, harassed and fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation. It has become known as the LGBT Purge.

Michelle Douglas served the country, and she said she was proud of it. But it was also a time in her life marred by injustice.

After falling in love with another officer, the military came down hard on her.

“Ultimately, when I was attached to a lie detector test, I admitted to being a lesbian and was subsequently fired by the Canadian Armed Forces,” said Douglas.

Douglas was one of around 9,000 members who were discriminated against between the 1950s and 1990s because of their sexual orientation or gender expression.

“People were not only fired like I was, they were institutionalized, arrested, beaten up, and in some cases even murdered just because of why they are. It’s time we start telling the stories,” said Douglas, who is now the executive director of the LGBT Purge Fund.

The new exhibit at the CMHR tells the stories of oppression, but also the ones of resilience.

“It’s a remarkable thing,” said Matthew Cutler, the vice president of Exhibitions at the CMHR.

“I’ve been involved in LGBT activism for decades and the Purge was completely foreign to me. I am actually a cousin of someone who died by suicide after he was purged from the military, and that was a family story that I didn’t learn until I started working on this exhibition.”

The exhibit ‘Dismantling Canada’s LGBT Purge’ focuses on what happened during that time, but also chronicles the fight for justice and how purge survivors won a historic settlement against the government in 2018.

“Knowing that we had to fight so hard to be seen and heard and receive justice, but that was the day when justice was received, and it felt amazing,” said Douglas.

For young people, the exhibit is also a learning moment about a dark time in Canada’s history.

“So if we educate people on this, we can understand one another and create an environment where it’s a safe space for everybody,” said Manith Siragam, a Grad 12 student at Dakota Collegiate.

The museum plans to open a broader exhibit next year titled ‘Love in a Dangerous Time’ and it will be a deeper look into Canada’s 2SLGBTQ+ history.

For now, museumgoers can visit the Purge exhibit, including this Sunday, for free.

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