Sudbury group to honour LGBTQ veterans at local Remembrance Day service
"They thought enough of this country to hide who they were so they could serve."
When wreaths are added this Remembrance Day at the cenotaph at the Onaping Falls Community Centre, there will be one laid in honour of LGBTQ veterans.
The wreath will be laid by two members from TG Innerselves: Rita OLink and Darlyn Hansen. OLink is also the chair of the Northern Ontario Pride network.
TG Innerselves, a transgender support group, wanted to acknowledge the sacrifice of LGBT Canadians in past wars, especially since most of these veterans could not express their true selves at that time.
"To commemorate and honour the LGBTQ veterans that fought and served — silently — in three wars," OLink said.
The local acknowledgement of sacrifice by LGBTQ veterans comes on the heels of the national apology.
It was a year ago that the federal government apologized to civil servants, military members and others who endured discrimination and injustice based on their sexual orientation.
"This year we can finally step out and honour them for exactly who they are," OLink said.
She describes how in past world wars military members who were stationed overseas could get letters and packages from their wives, fiancées and girlfriends, and could talk openly about these relationships.
"But imagine being a gay person, not being able to receive the letter and certainly not being able to talk about your loved one."
OLink says for her laying the wreath at the cenotaph on November 11 will be a poignant and moving moment.
They thought enough of this country to hide who they were so they could serve. -Rita OLink, TG Innerselves
"I'm going to remember that they thought enough of this country to hide who they were so they could serve. That takes things to a very special place," she added.
This will be the first time a wreath will be laid in honour of LGBTQ veterans in Canada since the national apology.
Along with Onaping Falls, similar LGBTQ groups in Elliot Lake and Thunder Bay will also lay wreaths at Remembrance Day services.
But OLink guarantees there will be a similar gesture at the Remembrance Day services in Greater Sudbury in 2019. Plus she expects other Canadian communities to follow suit.
"When we talk about things like gay pride, this is real gay pride," OLink said of the LGBTQ veterans.
"This is our being proud of standing shoulder to shoulder with other Canadians, protecting our rights, protecting our freedom. This is what the war was all about. It was about human rights."
With files from Angela Gemmill