Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau offered an official apology to LGBTQ Canadians for their country’s systemic oppression and persecution.
From the Cold War era to as late at the 1990s, the Canadian government removed LGBTQ citizens from military, police, and public service positions. Thousands of queer Canadians have been affected by these practices. It wasn’t just their livelihoods they lost. Some were even prosecuted. In order to out or identify targets, authorities used the “fruit machine,” a device that sounds like it was pulled directly out of A Clockwork Orange. Victims would sit in a chair and be shown homoerotic material. If their eyes dilated, they’d be labeled as gay. There are even reports that queer women were raped in order to cure them. Some may have even taken their own lives.
This is a story and a crime not unique to Canada. These injustices, and even much worse, have been committed against LGBTQ people world in virtually every country around the world. We LGBTQ people are unique, not just because of how we identify or our “untraditional” relationships, but because we are a people of this Earth with no country to truly call our own. There is no LGBTQ nation. We are simultaneously everywhere and nowhere. Even when we’re nowhere, you can usually find us speaking in code and clawing out a corner of the world to make a safe space for ourselves. We are not nowhere because we aren’t there. We’re simply not allowed to be.
I am not Canadian, but I am gay. Hearing the leader of a nation say, “It is with shame and sorrow and deep regret for the things we have done that I stand here today and say: We were wrong,” broke my heart and repaired it again. The prime minister also pledged $85 million to help the survivors of these crimes. Finally, someone in power recognizes what we’ve all known. Finally, someone in power apologizes for the abuse of power against the most vulnerable. Finally, we can try to move on now that the bare minimum is met.
This apology has no doubt come too late for many Canadians harmed by these crimes. But it does offer something to those still living and those coming out today. When I was a gay teen in school, I thought I was alone. No history book taught me that it was a gay man who helped win World War II. No teacher thought it important enough to tell me a lesbian woman was the best tennis player in the world. When I felt voiceless, no guidance counselor taught me drag queens and transgender women of color took to the streets to give me one. It wasn’t until I was 14 that I learned there was an LGBTQ rights movement. I only learned about that because my state was debating marriage equality.
I hope every queer kid in the world hears Prime Minister Trudeau’s apology. I hope every leader in the world follows his example and tries to remedy the injustice they inflicted on their LGBTQ people.
I wish I could say my country will be next. But given that we have a president who won’t apologize for being a sexual predator and who openly supports a rapist for Senate, I’ll have to continue waiting. Queer Americans will have to continue finding out what was done to us and fighting for justice on our own.