Women in Canadian History: Michelle Douglas

My military police arm band. I hope I’m supposed to have this, but I’ve always kept it. This was my epaulettes. So they would go on your shoulder. I was very proud to have this. I wished I would have had a chance to add more senior ranks, but happy to have these. Yeah, my career. I was a young person, 23, 24 years old. I was so afraid. I just wanted to do my job, but none of that mattered. They were on a mission to determine my sexual orientation, and then to ask me about every other person I knew in the military who happened to be gay or lesbian. My name is Michelle Douglas. I was born in Ottawa, Canada, and it was my fight against the Canadian
Armed Forces that formally ended the ban of discrimination against lesbian and
gay service members. I didn’t really have any revelations that I might be lesbian
until I’d finished university and finally met someone who was a fellow
officer in the Canadian Armed Forces. I fell in love with a person who was a
very fine person, who just happened to be a woman. This was a big problem for my
employer: the Canadian Armed Forces. At this time, in the late ’80s, there was a
real climate of fear among gay or lesbian service members. People were really afraid of what would happen to them, to their careers. You had to remain deeply closeted about your sexual orientation, and keep
hidden any relationship that you might be building. It was kind of the one, unwritten rule, that anyone who happened to be gay in the military knew they had to follow. So, these are actually my real dog tags that I wore in uniform just under my shirt. It has your religion, your Social Insurance
Number, your blood type. Those are your dog tags. These are the real ones. The military’s policy was that if you’re gay and in the military, you can stay. You
can serve your country. But, a few conditions would apply. You would never
receive any more pay raises. You would never receive another posting.
You would never receive a transfer. You would never receive a promotion to another grade. Because I was an officer, I was a Second Lieutenant. I expected to become a Lieutenant, then a Captain, and so on. But, not for gays or lesbians in the military. You were forever frozen. Never to be
posted. Never to be paid more. You were subject to the worst kinds of
discrimination, by policy. It was written down in their orders and
regulations. So, this was the climate that existed. And it’s no wonder people tried to remain as deeply closeted, as deeply hidden as they could. Who would want to be subjected to that kind of policy? At the completion of my training to become
a security officer in the military, the career development people in the military said: “Ah ha. You’re going to go places. We want to promote you, and place you in a unit known as the Special Investigations Unit.” Its mandate was to investigate the most serious forms of criminal behavior in the military. Crimes like espionage, serious criminal offences. It was also mandated to investigate allegations of homosexuality. The two sides of this path
would collide very soon in my posting to the Special Investigations Unit. One day, early in my posting to this unit, I was contacted by my commanding officer
who said to me: “Michelle, gather your things. We’re flying out to investigate a
very serious case. Grab your things. We’re leaving now.” I was excited. I didn’t really understand what might be happening. We drove out in an undercover Special
Investigations car and just before we got to the airport, my boss turned into a
hotel parking lot and I knew immediately that I was in very bad trouble. We went into the Constellation Hotel. We went up to the 8th floor. He went to a hotel room, and opened the door, and inside was an arrangement, like more of an office. There were two men in civilian clothes, in suits, sitting in there and my boss turned to me, and he looked at me, and he said: “You’re to go in. These men have some questions for you.” And I looked at them, and he was gone. I spent the next two days being interrogated in this hotel room by those two men. Given that I was new to the Special Investigations Unit, they told me that the experience
was about to get very unpleasant for me. And really, what they wanted to do was
talk about the possibility that I’m lesbian and what that would mean for my service in the Canadian Armed Forces. That they wanted to test my loyalty to
the country by having me reveal the names of every gay or lesbian person I knew of in the Canadian Armed Forces. They wanted to talk to me about whether or not my family knew that I’m lesbian. By the way, they didn’t. They saw me as a potential blackmail risk because I was not openly gay. I lied to them. I told them I’m not gay. That I had no idea what they were talking about, and I just held onto that as long as I could. They said: “Well, there’s really only one way for you to prove that, and that’s to take a polygraph exam, and to prove to us on a lie-detector test that you’re being honest. You’ll do that, right Michelle?” And I said: “No I’m not going to take a
polygraph exam.” Because of course, remember, I was a trained military police officer. If I was lying, they’d know. And I didn’t want to do that either, but then that became the focus of additional harassment for me. They started to say: “Ah, we see that by not doing this you really are lying to us, and maybe you’re disloyal to your country again. Isn’t that it? And isn’t that what you’re hiding?” Well, it wasn’t. I just didn’t want them
to know I was lesbian because I really knew if I came out to them, that it would be the end of my career. But the military had a plan for me. I was eventually returned back to my home, and forced to walk into my office the next day. I would go to open my filing cabinet, and they had stripped it completely of all the information. I asked my boss: “What happened?” He said: “Michelle we can’t trust
you until you tell us the truth.” They would slam doors to my office, yell at me saying: “You have to take the polygraph, Michelle. You must do it.” I can’t really even explain how bad it was at that time, but it was causing me to really break down, and it was a form of humiliation that really got to me. And I was a strong person, but even the strongest can’t withstand some of that. So, eventually I said to my boss: “Okay. I’ll take the polygraph exam” And with that he said: “Okay. Let’s get in the car.” They flew me to Ottawa, and a military police car picked me up, just like they would any criminal. They brought me to the Special Investigations Unit in Ottawa. My very home unit. They said: “This is where we investigate the most serious forms of crime, including allegations of sexual orientation. So, now we’ll test you.” And it was at that moment that I put my hands up. I say: “You win. I’m not taking this
exam. I’m gay.” Well, that changed everything. First of all, they had no idea what to do with that moment. It really surprised them. They did not expect me to do it. They disconnected me from the machine
and said: “Okay. Well, we’ll deal with this later. You’re to go home” They flew me back to Toronto, and said: “You can’t come to work anymore. We don’t know how to manage you exactly, but just go home, and we’ll contact you when you can serve next.” It wasn’t exactly what I planned for myself
in the military. In 1989, I was released honourably from
the Canadian Armed Forces under the category of Sexual Abnormality. It said the following: “Not advantageously employable due to homosexuality.” The only reason I was being fired by the military was because of my sexual orientation. I was an amazing performer for them. I worked so hard. I was at the top of every
class. I excelled in every way. So, it just underscores for people the extent of the discrimination. Excellence didn’t matter, only your sexual orientation did. And as I came to find out, there were thousands of people who went through
similar experiences to me. What was the military thinking? When I left the military, I had nothing. I had not had a chance yet to save money. I was young. I went to a lecture at a university and I met Canada’s first openly gay Member of Parliament, a man by the name of Svend Robinson. And at the end of his lecture, I approached him. I introduced myself to him and said: “Svend, I’m in a lot of trouble being fired now by the military, and I’m not sure what to do with everything that’s happened to me.” We connected with each other, and he eventually said that he’d like to help me get access to a lawyer. And that’s when I met Clayton Ruby, a Canadian lawyer who is a champion for human rights, who believes deeply in the pursuit of justice. And he said to me when I met him: “You have a strong case.” And with that, we launched a lawsuit against
the Canadian Armed Forces for discrimination, for the harassment, for the interrogations, for the poor treatment that I received. And on the eve of this three-week trial, the military contacted my lawyer and said: “We agree to settle. She’s right. There was discrimination. There’s no excuse. There’s no defense. Here’s what we’ll do. We’ll settle with Michelle. We’ll end our formal policy of discrimination immediately, and for all those who had been subject to that policy, people who had been stuck at their current rank, who had never been posted, not received training. Just, frozen in their roles. We will restore them to full rank. We will give them training. We’ll post them. We’ll pay them their back pay.” And for me, that was the biggest victory
of all because it had the effect of restoring dignity to people who had been
denied it, who just wanted to serve the country. And
even though the military treated them so badly, their desire to serve the country was so great, that they actually served in those conditions. They’re real heroes. The lawsuit allowed them, at some level, to restore their dignity. There’s an acknowledgment of the wrong.
That’s hugely important for a country like Canada who prides itself on human rights and access to justice. So, we’re really getting somewhere now. This was the life I’d not actually imagined for myself. I thought I’d be an officer in the Canadian Air Forces. But frankly, experiencing discrimination changed me a lot. I realized that I’d like mostly to work with young people, because they just are inherently cool, and seem to get it. I’ve seen it. I’ve been inspired, continually, by young people, their energy, their motivation, their creativity, and their boundless commitment to a better Canada. I love that. I want to be part of it. Telling my story is part of that too. It was a pretty shameful experience for Canada, but there’s a way to emerge from it. You can be stronger. You can remember the experience, but use it for good. And that’s exactly what I’ve tried to do. I’m really committed to joining others in that kind of pursuit.

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