Calgary

Gay and lesbian soldiers honoured with wreath at Calgary Remembrance Day service

Soldiers who fought and died for freedom were remembered at ceremonies across the country Friday — but not all those who fought and died considered themselves to be free.

'You not only leave your homeland to go fight for it, but you can’t be yourself'

A gay rights activist honoured LGBT soldiers with a rainbow-coloured wreath during the Remembrance Day ceremonies at Calgary's Central Memorial Park. 0:25

Soldiers who fought and died for freedom were remembered at ceremonies across the country Friday — but not all those who fought and died considered themselves to be free.

To honour gay and lesbian soldiers, Rob Eberly, dressed in drag as his persona, Mz. Rhonda, laid a wreath at the cenotaph in Calgary's Central Memorial Park, marking the first time the LGBT community has been formally recognized during a Remembrance Day service in the city. 

Organizers think it is also a first in Canada.

War is hell, but it must have been even worse for LGBT soldiers, said Mz. Rhonda.

"It must have been terrifying, absolutely terrifying," she said. "You not only leave your homeland to go fight for it, but you can't be yourself.

"You're constantly hiding — you're constantly hiding your gestures, talking about your loved ones back home — whereas the other guys could show pictures of their girlfriends and wives and celebrate that."

The wreath honouring LGBT soldiers was one of dozens placed during Friday's Remembrance Day ceremony. (Kate Adach/CBC)

The wreath was supplied by the office of Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr, and Mz. Rhonda decorated it with a rainbow sash, poppies and the letters LGBTQ.

Bonnie Petersen was touched by the gesture.

"I think it's about time their contributions have been recognized," she said.

"I've known different people throughout the years and the struggles they've gone through, how hard it is. They're finally getting acceptance, then something like [the election of Donald] Trump happens down in the States and it's one step forward, two steps back.

"This is one step forward, peace and tolerance and acceptance and accepting people for who they truly are."

Reaction has been mixed

Mz. Rhonda said the gesture garnered a mixed response.

"The negative ones are thinking it's more of a protest and a political thing when it isn't," she said. "It's just making the step forward to be able to do this proudly for those who have served us.

"Those who have served and are gay are extremely happy they are finally being remembered. I'm here out of respect for those who gave their lives so I could live in a peaceful world."

Nolan Hill attends Remembrance Day ceremonies annually, even travelling twice to Ottawa to take in the national service.
Nolan Hill was happy to see a wreath honouring LGBT soldiers. (Kate Adach/CBC)

"It's fabulous," he said of the special ceremony.

"My grandfather fought in the Second World War and … being a member of the LGBT community, I recognize how often our community was treated very poorly as a result of their service in the military and not [being] respected for a very long time. It's amazing now that we're starting to get there, where people can talk about this."

Hill said he'd like to see a wreath placed for LGBT soldiers each year going forward.

"In some ways, it's better late than never. And hopefully this becomes the way we honour our veterans every year from now on, not just here in Calgary, but across the country."

With files from Kate Adach