Commemorating 2SLGBTQIA+ veterans

Todd Ross, Indigenous student advisor on the UNB Saint John campus, shared his experience with Hayden Richardson and Christopher Tregilges of the UNB Human Rights & Positive Environment Office.

Todd Ross on the HMCS Saskatchewan

Todd Ross

Since its inception in the 1920s, Remembrance Day has come to signify an opportunity to reflect on the toll of war and the personal sacrifices of Canada’s military and civilians. It is a time to reflect on what is necessary for the creation of a peaceful, equitable, and just world.

As Remembrance Day continues to evolve and the long arc of history bends towards justice, many are drawing attention to the need for Canada to wrestle with and make amends for historical injustices that have shaped this country.

We are reminded that Remembrance Day should also include the commemoration of all veterans and the inequities that many faced while serving their country. This year, we celebrate Todd Ross, Indigenous student advisor on the Saint John campus, who reminds us of the importance of commemorating 2SLGBTQIA+ veterans and their histories and stories.

After spending most of his adolescence involved in army cadets, it was an easy choice for Ross to join the navy in 1987. He served on the HMCS Saskatchewan until he was released, or purged, from service in 1990.

As a young man coming to accept his own sexual orientation, he recalls an individual on his naval ship that was segregated from others because he was gay – separating him from the sleeping quarters of 40-plus other soldiers. At the time, he says, homophobic stereotypes and fears in the military reflected general society.

Over two years, Ross was forced to take a series of polygraph tests and disclose his sexuality to senior officers which ultimately lead to release from the navy in 1990. His experience is not unique. Many veterans have since disclosed similar experiences in a period that has come to be known as the Purge, when more than 700 members of the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP, and the public service were forced out of their roles due to their sexuality.

In 2017, the Canadian government offered a formal apology to victims of the Purge, and a class-action lawsuit that Ross helped to lead brought financial restitution to many, the largest financial redress to members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in the world. Some of these funds are used to help to educate about the Purge including an installation of a national monument in Ottawa, an exhibit at the Museum of Human Rights, and record collection with the Government of Canada to ensure future researchers can continue tell this story.

Ross is a vocal advocate for the inclusion of the stories of 2SLGBTQIA+ veterans in Remembrance Day celebrations. He helps to ensure that support offered to veterans includes all veterans, including 2SLGBTQIA+ folks. He reminds us that discrimination against 2SLGBTQIA+ and other marginalized individuals is still present in our communities.

As institutions like the Canadian government and military continue to address historical and current inequities, Ross inspires and reminds us that we have the power to contribute to meaningful change. Each of us can support these goals by learning more about our history and working towards a more equitable future, on Remembrance Day and every day.