I think of soldiers in November. Not the sea of green, blue or navy congregating at City Hall or the Butterdome on Remembrance Day. I think of individuals and the large and small acts of bravery they perform every day protecting human rights and making Edmonton a safe haven.
I think of the frail RCAF veteran, my father, at age 92 declaring, “I believe homosexuality has been around since time began… and civilization is much better for it… but I’m afraid these people must always be on alert, watching over their shoulders.”
I think about a “career soldier,” (medic, physician assistant, veteran of conflicts in Libya, Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda and Sierra Leone) Master Warrant Officer John McDougall. In 2013, at his request, Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Edmonton made local, national and international history when the Rainbow Flag was raised in ceremony at the Garrison. LGBTQ individuals could serve openly in the military since 1992, but this public gesture, 21 years later, was monumental – the ultimate stamp of approval.
But it wasn’t all Pride Parades and flag waving early in his career when John McDougall was “outed,” handcuffed, arrested and detained for being gay. There were death threats: “It’s dark out there, Doc. You may walk into the field, but you’ll be coming out feet first.”
It proved my father’s fears. But not now. Policies protect service personnel from sexual harassment or mistreatment from fellow soldiers.
The Pride Flag has not been raised at the Garrison since 2013 and John McDougall likes to believe it’s because the military is inclusive and respectful of all minorities including LGBTQ. “I know it ruffled a lot of feathers and we still have some distance to go, but more and more people realize sexual orientation is a non-issue.” I asked if he recognized that he was an Edmonton pioneer, a hero to some. “I was in the right place at the right time. CFB Edmonton is just a cross-section of the city and society in general. Even Moose Jaw and Halifax have followed suit.”
I think of soldiers in November. Amidst the sea of green and blue and navy, I think of the rainbow flag and one man in particular. I think of Edmonton as a safer haven than it used to be and I think of YEG with pride.
Laurel Deedrick-Mayne, Edmonton author and CAA member, is the recipient of the $10,000 Alberta Readers Choice Award, sponsored by Edmonton Public Library, for her debut novel, A Wake For The Dreamland (FriesenPress).