Trudeau’s defective apology to LGBT people

by John Wilson

Some (mostly) good news for a change! One is local to the GTA. Arising out of the effective resistance to a police campaign of anti-queer harassment and arrests in Marie Curtis park, all contested charges have been dropped. This is the result of strong local community organizing in the area, a development that likely would not have been possible even in the recent past. This suggests the growth of self-confidence and willingness to act in the public arena on the part of the local LGBT community and allies, which is really encouraging.

The other victory is in the federal arena: Prime Minister Trudeau’s apology for the decades-long vicious campaign by the RCMP and the military to eliminate gays and lesbians from the civil service and the armed forces. Between the 1950s and the 1990s, the Canadian state conducted widespread spying against queer people, firing numerous people simply on the basis of their sexuality, tried to intimidate them into giving information on others, destroying careers and lives along the way. (There were suicides that resulted from this witch-hunt.)

While Trudeau’s apology is fairly wide-ranging, it is also defective and lacks honesty. He attributes this atrocity to “the thinking of the time.” This was a deliberate and calculated policy orchestrated by the highest levels of the federal state. And the apology is the result of decades of protest organized by queer activists and their allies, not the implied generosity of the government. Money has been allocated to compensate people grievously harmed by this campaign. But it is too late for many. And if compensation is handled the same way as it has been in the case of the atrocity of residential schools, people will wait a long time to see any money. The promised expungement of criminal records involving consensual sex does NOT include convictions for violating the medieval bawdy house laws under which hundreds were arrested, as in the infamous Toronto bathhouse raids.

So, while the apology is a victory for queer communities, it is not an unqualified one, and major issues have not been addressed. Among these is the ongoing prohibition of gay men donating blood and the continuing criminalization of HIV. The struggle continues.