The Canadian government issued a formal apology for the active discrimination perpetrated by the Canadian government against LGBTQ+ military and public service workers that occurred from the 1950s to the 1990s. Additionally, the Canadian government announced it will be earmarking more than $100 million to compensate civil servants whose careers were negatively impacted due to their sexuality. Coupled, this sends both a strong symbolic message and begins the long process of working to undo or at least lessen the harms. Both of these are important and necessary steps towards proving the government’s commitment to the LGBTQ+ community.
As a symbol, it helps promote healing from harm caused by discriminatory witch hunt-esque policies and is a commitment to never going down that path again. It is also a sign that the Liberal government is following through with its promises to continue to seek better equity for LGBTQ+ folk within Canada.
Yet it is still a bit presumptive. The apology speech paints Canada in a fairer light than it possibly deserves. There were many instances where, in moments of reflection, the Prime Minister could have called on Canadians as a whole to do better, rather than relegate blame primarily as a relic of the past. It compartmentalizes the specific issue being apologized for as if it can be discussed without considering the myriad of other issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community, which simply isn’t true.
The persecution of LGBTQ+ public service workers was more than just devastating to those it affected directly, but became a symbol to others of how their own identity was incompatible with Canada, and that to succeed they needed to reject themselves. It reinforced and defined other forms of discrimination who looked to these government policies as guiding principles. The apology however, ignores a bulk of this context, focusing solely on the policies and their direct victims. Symbolism alone is not going to fight still prominent discriminatory attitudes within the Canadian public, even if extremely heartfelt.
Which is why, likely partially driven by the understanding of the above criticism, there was also the announcement about the compensation plan. While it is great to hear about the money earmarked for compensating civil servants who were affected, there is so much more that needs to happen. Ending the gay blood donation ban, better support services for LGBTQ+ youth such as youth shelters, improving the accessibility of transitioning services for trans youth, and other things that all need to be fought for. The government has made promises on all of these, and even some progress on some. Yet, it is too easy for us to allow the government to give this apology, mark the money, and then pat themselves on the back for a job well done. Likely this is because it is often seen that any progress is good progress, but if we don’t keep demanding more, if we let nice-sounding apologies become the measuring stick, it is going to be a significantly longer journey than it should be.