Defence Team celebrates National Coming Out Day

"I am optimistic that my decision to speak publicly about my sexual identity means I will no longer be burdened by the isolation of having to pretend I am someone I am not.” – PO1 Robert Wheaton

“I am optimistic that my decision to speak publicly about my sexual identity means I will no longer be burdened by the isolation of having to pretend I am someone I am not.” – PO1 Robert Wheaton

Peter Mallett
Staff Writer
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The Defence Community at Maritime Forces Pacific is preparing to celebrate National Coming Out Day on October 11th during the week of this issue’s publication. The event is a catalyst and will be a turning point in the life of at least one RCN member. 

National Coming Out Day is an annual event that aims to support LGBTQ2+ people in their efforts to live openly and honestly with their personal identity within the broader community.

The event is being organized by the Defence Team Pride Advisory Organization (DTPAO). 

At 8 a.m. on Oct. 11 members of the DTPAO will hoist pride flags and the the rainbow colours will fly prominently at Naden, Work Point and Duntze Head. DTPAO co-chair Steven Cleugh says inclusive policy changes and support are key to enhancing military and operational success for everyone in Maritime Forces Pacific (MARPAC). 

“The official recognition of National Coming Out Day at the base is an opportunity to promote understanding and acceptance,” said Cleugh. “The DPATO is here to listen, help and educate people who don’t know about LGBTQ2+ issues.  We support people who are part of the Defence Team with the overall goal of making the workplace a more open and inclusive environment.”

The DTPAO was established on Dec. 9, 2020 and is the fifth Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) employment equity advisory group. The DTPAO’s mandate is to offer guidance to the CAF leadership on matters relating to the LGBTQ2+ members, both civilian and military.

National Coming Out Day has become an important moment in the life of PO1 Robert Wheaton, a Naval Communicator (NAV COMM) employed with the Naval Personnel Training Group (NPTG). Robert is a Positive Space Ambassador for his workplace and has served the Canadian Armed Forces for the past 18 years. He identifies as a pansexual. 

Robert grew up the small farming town of Oxford, N.S., unofficially known as the wild blueberry capital of Canada.  He spent most of his life in Oxford and Halifax until a move to Victoria in 2016. Despite his attraction to both women and men since very early in life, his “coming out moment” happened only recently with disclosures to close friends and family.

 “I spent years denying who I was, hiding my identity and enduring personal and professional upheaval.  The experience created mental health challenges and I lived with the constant and conflicting  anxieties of being found out and not being true to myself. It wasn’t until just this year that I was able to disclose my genuine self to my immediate family: the feeling was intensely empowering and I knew then that it was just a matter of time until I took the next step and acknowledged my identity fully and publicly”. 

Robert says the reaction from people close to him has been overwhelmingly supportive and he credits the National Coming Out Day for providing the tiny extra motivation he needed. “When I saw the call for volunteers to tell their stories for National Coming Out Day, it struck a chord in me: I knew it was the right time,” he said. 

“I am optimistic that my decision to speak publicly about my sexual identity means I will no longer be burdened by the isolation of having to pretend I am someone I am not,” says PO1 Wheaton.

“I am not seeking to be inspirational for other people, that’s not what is motivating me.  However, it does give me a great sense of pride to think that someone in a similar situation might draw some strength or courage from my experience. I’m also hopeful that this will bring some additional awareness to the Positive Space initiative and to the DTPAO”.

His advice to others who are struggling to affirm who they are before their friends, family and co-workers is simple:

“Look inward and do what feels right for you at the time, you owe that to yourself,” he said. “I’m proud of the person I am but getting here was the hardest part. Accepting myself – actually ‘being myself’ – has given me the strength and resolve to be authentic; and that is well worth the discomfort and potential risk to existing relationships.”

If you are in the same boat and thinking of coming out to your friends, family or co-workers Cleugh and PO1 Wheaton urge you to reach out to the DTPAO or Positive Space Ambassador in your unit or workplace and start a conversation.

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Filed Under: Top Stories

About the Author: The Lookout Newspaper can trace its history back to April 1943 when CFB Esquimalt’s first newspaper was published. Since then, Lookout has grown into the award winning source for Pacific Navy News. Leading the way towards interactive social media reach, we are a community resource newspaper growing a world wide audience.

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