New exhibit about 2SLGBTQI+ history opens

Few people know the tragic truth of Canada’s LGBT Purge. But a new exhibit in the Canadian Journeys gallery at the Museum is changing that.

“Dismantling Canada’s LGBT Purge” reveals how the Canadian government systematically identified and expelled LGBT members of the military, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the federal civil service. This Purge shattered lives and careers.

The new exhibit in the Museum’s Canadian Journeys gallery called “Dismantling Canada’s LGBT Purge” shares stories of those who were purged, how they fought back and what it means for our future.

The story of the LGBT Purge, which took place over decades, is told chronologically along the walls of the exhibit. On the back wall, looping images display protest signs from the 1970s and 1980s. In a corner, a real 1970s newspaper box displays videos of news reports spanning the LGBT Purge, including the lawsuit that ended this discriminatory practice and the government of Canada’s formal apology.

Three survivors, Michelle Douglas, Todd Ross and Martine Roy, shared their experiences as the exhibit was unveiled to the public.

“I’ve learned as an activist that ending discriminatory policies is essential—but it’s only a first step,” says Michelle. “Then you have to commit—probably a lifetime—to the hard, slogging, awesome work to try to make real change, culture change, organizational change.”

Michelle Douglas poses with a photo of herself when she was a young woman in the military. While enlisted, she was top of her class and had a promising career ahead of her. But the government’s discriminatory policies meant she was interrogated about her sexuality and discharged from the military.

Her lawsuit against the government in 1992 ended the discriminatory practices of the LGBT Purge and is featured in the exhibit.

“[The exhibit’s] context in a very special place was the first thing that hit me,” says Michelle. “And then I saw myself as a very young woman. I stood back and took it in, and I burst into tears.”

Michelle’s story is all too common for those who were cruelly fired during the LGBT Purge.

Martine Roy, whose story is also part of the exhibit, shared how she was motivated to succeed in the military but was instead expelled because her sexuality was perceived as a threat.

“I was traumatized. I really struggled after that,” Martine recalled.

Martine Roy stands beside a photograph of her young self in an army vehicle with other soldiers. When the photo was taken, Martine was 19 years old and intent on succeeding in her military career. Instead, she was fired for being a lesbian in 1984.

Eventually Martine built a career at IBM and later at TD Bank. In both jobs, she led initiatives to support 2SLGBTQI+ coworkers and raise awareness. “At work you want to be focused, you want to be productive, you want to be authentic. You don’t want to have to lie about who you are.”

“Our stories have to be told,” she added.

This exhibit opening is just the beginning of sharing these stories. The Museum has been working directly with Purge survivors and community members to tell the fulsome story of Canada’s LGBT Purge and is in the final stages of building a blockbuster exhibition about it.

When it opens early next year, Love in a Dangerous Time: Canada’s LGBT Purge will be the largest-ever exhibition about 2SLGBTQI+ history and rights in Canada. The Museum is also creating a smaller, pop-up version of the exhibition that can travel to places that can’t normally host museum exhibitions, such as community centres, shopping malls and offices.

If you would like to get involved in supporting Love in a Dangerous Time, please contact us.