Human rights museum explores dark period of Canadian history as Pride festival begins

A new story exhibit at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is highlighting the legacy of a dark time in the country’s history.

From the 1950s through the ’90s, thousands of federally employed Canadians working in the military, RCMP and public service were targeted and fired because of their sexual orientation or gender expression, in what has become known as the “LGBT Purge.”

“It’s a huge event in Canadian history that denied the human rights of so many thousands of people, and yet few know about it,” said activist Michelle Douglas, who was on hand to launch the exhibit Friday.

“So we’re changing that today with this opening of … a niche within the within the museum. It’s a personal honour to be part of it. And, in fact, it’s deeply humbling to know I’m part of the human rights story with so many others in Canada.”

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It’s a topic Douglas knows about first-hand, experiencing the effects of the purge personally as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces.

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“I was so proud to serve in the military back in the mid-1980s. I was doing so well, loving it, and felt really proud to serve Canada,” Douglas told Global Winnipeg.

“But because I fell in love during that time with a fellow officer who happened to be a woman, I came under interrogation by military police — for many days, in a hotel room, where they interrogated me about my sexual orientation.”

Douglas said she eventually admitted to being a lesbian and was fired from the military, but successfully spearheaded a legal battle against the military and its discriminatory policies.

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Click to play video: 'Pride Winnipeg Festival 2024 preview'

Pride Winnipeg Festival 2024 preview

The exhibit, which is located in the museum’s Canadian Journeys gallery, is titled Dismantling Canada’s LGBT Purge, and is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to education about this topic.

The CMHR says a major exhibit, Love in a Dangerous Time: Canada’s LGBT Purge is planned for next year, and is expected to be the largest-ever exhibit about Canadian LGBTQ2 history.

As Winnipeg’s Pride celebrations kicked off Friday, Douglas said despite the success she and other activists saw in the courtroom, there are still many members of the community who continue to be mistreated in 2024.

“Two-spirit folks, non-binary folks, transgender people … are just coming under tremendous hatred.

“I ask all those who are keen to tell lies about them and bring them down: ‘Is that the value you want to be known for?’ These are human beings who deserve love, support, protection, dignity and respect.

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“I stand with them. And, as a human rights activist, I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

The museum’s Matthew Cutler said that while the annual Pride party is a celebratory event, it’s important to remember and reflect on some of the struggles that made it possible.

“It’d be so easy for us to celebrate all weekend and then maybe backslide in the work, in the progress that we’ve made as communities,” Cutler told Global Winnipeg.

“We are creating a Canada that we all want to live in, where we all can be ourselves and feel a sense of belonging … but that takes work. It takes rest and celebration and everything this weekend is about, and it takes us doing the work every day to learn to share what we learn, to share our stories and help other people to be up to standards in their communities.”

Click to play video: 'Winnipeg celebrates biggest Pride Parade in history, spreading love and acceptance'

Winnipeg celebrates biggest Pride Parade in history, spreading love and acceptance

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