Soldiers to march with Pride parade

Jun 27, 2008 04:30 AM


staff reporter

Call it the opposite of "Don’t ask, don’t tell."

The Canadian Forces will be on the march Sunday, but on a different kind of mission. For the first time, men and women in uniform from across the country will represent the military in Toronto’s Pride parade.

"This will send out a national message that the Canadian Forces is an employer of choice for all people," Lieut. Stephen Churm said yesterday. The naval officer will be among 17 military personnel walking and interacting with the crowd.

"We’re not going to be in full uniform," he said. "We’ll wear short sleeves because of the weather."

The soldiers will march alongside firefighters, police and people representing Toronto Crime Stoppers, the latter who are also marching at Pride for the first time.

A diversity officer with the Hamilton recruitment centre, Churm has been openly gay at work since 2001. In 2004, he led the charge to create a military presence in Hamilton’s annual Pride festival, and began with four soldiers at an information booth. Last year, he and a small group of soldiers marched in the parade for the first time.

He wanted to correct a perception in the gay community that the Canadian military "had a policy of `Don’t ask, don’t tell.’"

Churm said Hamilton Pride officials consulted neither that community nor the military before making a "political decision" to ban the military from this year’s parade.

Hamilton Pride organizers imposed the ban because of a complaint from a recent immigrant who feared the military because of persecution by soldiers in their own country. They also allege the Canadian Forces is responsible for worldwide human rights abuses.

Churm said that while the Canadian Forces respects Hamilton Pride officials’ right to decide who is a part of the parade, "we would have liked to the opportunity to discuss it with organizers.

"The irony here is we had no intention of attending because we were concentrating on Toronto," which has a higher profile, he said.

It won’t be Churm’s first Toronto Pride. He attended in 1999, when he kept his sexual orientation a secret from the military. He says he might have come out sooner had he seen something as powerful as a military presence at Pride.

The Canadian Forces are "shifting gears" to a more welcoming attitude toward gay, lesbian and transgendered soldiers, Churm said, adding he has never felt discriminated against – although he has had to "educate people" at times.

"I hope it will encourage others to take the initiative and attend events elsewhere."

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