To pay tribute to thousands of soldiers who were forced to hide their sexuality in order to fight for their country in both world wars, the White Rock Pride Society will place a wreath and rainbow ribbon at the local cenotaph on Remembrance Day.
Pride Society president Ernie Klassen said his organization asked permission from the Royal Canadian Legion prior to making the gesture on Nov. 11. When recounting world history, Klassen said stories of LGBTQ+ contributions to war efforts are often untold.
“We’re wanting to bring some awareness to the fact that there were a lot of people that were discriminated against in the military and in the armed forces,” Klassen said.
One of the most notable LGBTQ+ World War II heroes was Alan Turing. Turing, from England, was a mathematician who played a key role in developing a computer that could crack the Enigma, a German cipher tool used to send encrypted messages and commands. Turing, now considered the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence, played a crucial role in cracking intercepted coded messages that enabled the Allies to win many critical engagements, the BBC reported.
Turing, who had to hide the fact that he was gay, was never fully recognized for his work because the English government determined his work to be classified.
In 1952, he was prosecuted for homosexual acts and accepted chemical castration. Two years later, he killed himself.
It wasn’t until 2009 that the British government apologized for its treatment of Turing. Queen Elizabeth II granted him a posthumous pardon in 2013. The government also created the ‘Alan Turing law,’ an informal name for a law that retroactively pardoned men cautioned or convicted under historical legislation that outlawed homosexual acts.
His face now appears on the Bank of England £50 note.
“I’m sure there’s lots to those kinds of stories. Maybe not to the extent of his, but there’s lots of suicides that happened and there’s a lot of people that were probably beaten up by other soldiers and killed and then, of course, in some countries it still goes on,” Klassen said.
“Our purpose was to bring some of this stuff to light. Just like Pride events, you can’t stop talking about these things or history repeats itself.”
According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, the Canadian military has had a history of punishing or purging LGBTQ+ members throughout much of its history.
During the Cold War, the military increased its effort to identify and remove suspected LGBTQ+ servicemen and women due to expressed concerns about blackmail and national security, the Canadian Encyclopedia reports.
In 1992, a court challenge led to the reversal of the discriminatory practice. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized in 2017 for the “gay purge.”
A total of 718 people filed the necessary paperwork for compensation under a historic settlement that was finalized in 2018. The Canadian Press reported that the settlement included between $50 million and $110 million in overall compensation, with eligible people each expected to receive between $5,000 and $175,000, depending on the gravity of their cases.