New Brunswick

Stigma didn't end with decriminalization, says LGBT heritage group

As the country celebrates the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada, the milestone didn't mark the end of discrimination for the LGBT community.

While legislation was passed 50 years ago to decriminalize homosexuality, persecution continued

Meredith Batt, vice-president of the New Brunswick Queer Initiative, said the bill only partially decriminalized homosexuality. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

As the country celebrates the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada, the milestone didn't mark the end of discrimination for the LGBT community.

In fact, in a strange way, it may have made it worse.

"I'm really careful to make that distinction between a partial decriminalization and a full decriminalization," said Dusty Green, president of the New Brunswick Queer Heritage Initiative.

"Saying that it was a full decriminalization sort of implies that things got better immediately, and that's not the case."

50 years ago, homosexuality was decriminalized in Canada. But it made things worse, for a while … 0:34

On March 15, 1969, a bill which had been labelled as decriminalizing homosexuality passed third reading in the House of Commons.

The legislation was the result of a journey started when then-justice minister Pierre Trudeau said the Pearson government would introduce legislation to decriminalize homosexuality.

"The view we take here is there's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation," said Trudeau in 1967.

In 1967, then justice minister Pierre Trudeau proposed changes to Canada's criminal code decriminalizing homosexuality. (CBC News)

But Meredith Batt, vice-president of the New Brunswick Queer Heritage Initiative, said the bill only partially decriminalized homosexuality.

Batt said many LGBT couples couldn't bring lovers to a home out of fear of discrimination, which led to arrests in public areas.

"The law was against having something open in public and if they were caught, they'd be arrested," said Batt.

"If you were in a hotel room, or you were in a car … people weren't able to, you know, be together in private or in public really, especially if they weren't out to their families."

Not ancient history

Part of the mandate of the Initiative is to collect the LGBT history of the province.

Court documents uncovered by the group have shown that persecution of LGBT people didn't end in 1969.

One case in 1973 shows a Saint-André man being sentenced to three years in prison for performing oral sex on another man.

An example of a conviction of a gay man for performing oral sex in Saint-André in 1973. (Submitted by Queer Heritage Initiative of New Brunswick)

Another case shows a Grand Falls man was arrested and charged for "gross indecency" with another man.

"I think it was institutional stigma," said Batt.

"The police and other institutions saw an opportunity to crack down. There was a lot of fear too. A lot of misunderstanding."

Government discrimination

The bill didn't end government discrimination of gay people, as can be seen with the continued purges of government employees thought to be gay.

Diane Doiron was forced out of the military because of her sexuality. She underwent numerous interrogations trying to get her to out herself or others.

Just this week, Doiron received her official government apology and copy of her military records in the mail.

Doiron was out to her family before she decided to join the military and said the military didn't ask about her sexuality or mention the prohibition against gay people serving when she signed up.

Diane Doiron was forced out of the military because of her sexuality, years after homosexuality was decriminalized by the government. (Submitted/Diane Doiron)

"If I would have saw that, or if somebody would have asked me, I would have said, 'OK, thanks but no thanks,'" said Doiron.

"I was 20-years-old. I found my sexuality and you know I was moving forward in a positive way."

Doiron said the stress and paranoia from constant interrogations and pressure to out others led to try and take her own life.

It was after this that Doiron got a medical discharge from the military, with the help of a doctor who knew about her sexuality.

Something to celebrate?

About 25 people attended a flag raising ceremony in front of Fredericton City Hall to commemorate the event.

Green said partial decriminalization was important, but Canadian's shouldn't think being gay was suddenly accepted after the bill was passed.

'Saying that it was a full decriminalization sort of implies that things got better immediately, and that’s not the case,' says Dusty Green, the president of the New Brunswick Queer Heritage Initiative. (Joe McDonald/CBC)

"Call it what it is, it's a partial decriminalization," said Green.

"Just acknowledging that, it opens up a conversation about queer history in Canada and the roll that that has on Canadian history at large."

About the Author

Jordan Gill

Reporter

Jordan Gill is a CBC reporter based out of Fredericton. He can be reached at jordan.gill@cbc.ca.