Military has changed to a more accepting workplace


“We are the invisible minority” says Capt(N) Luc Cassivi, the Chief of Staff Plans and Operations at Maritime Forces Pacific Headquarters. “We have gone ahead in spades in lesbian, gay and transgender issues in the Canadian Forces, but if we don’t keep it on our minds, we will fall back into complacency and we don’t want to go there.”

With 29 years of service as a submariner, Capt(N) Cassivi has experienced a sea-change in attitudes regarding gays, lesbians and transgendered members in uniform. Given that June is National Gay and Lesbian Pride month, sexual minority service members such as Capt(N) Cassivi pause for consideration when assessing their experiences in uniform.

Joining the Navy in 1983, Capt(N) Cassivi graduated from the Collège Militaire Royale du Canada at a time when the CF actively enforced a policy of systemic discrimination banning gays and lesbians from military service.

“In those days, we were an organization rooted in conservative values,” says Capt(N) Cassivi.  

Exposed to repeated insensitivities coupled with the fear of being found out, the young submariner’s thoughts were pervaded with a sense of fear and reprisal.

“There was a special investigations unit in the military during those days whose aim was entrapment and rooting us out. It was awful and it was traumatic,” says Capt(N) Cassivi.

According to Professor Alan Okros, Deputy Director of Academics at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto, between 1988 and 1992, the CF introduced an interim policy not to actively recruit lesbian and gay members; however, those current serving members who were ‘determined’ to be either lesbian or gay were deemed ‘career frozen’.

“Those individuals were not eligible for training, promotion, deployments or career courses,” says Dr. Okros.

Many lesbian and gay members released from service as a result.

Yet change was coming. The cause for inclusion of all minorities, not only gays and lesbians, to serve in all occupations of the CF became the legal beacon under which exclusivity, discrimination, and humiliation were hallmarks of an organization clearly out of step with the times.

In 1992 the military reversed its official policy of rooting out sexual minorities by cancelling CFAO 19-20, which prevented gays and lesbians from serving in the military.

Shortly following the repeal, Capt(N) Cassivi served on exchange with the Royal Australian Navy.

“I seriously considered leaving because I couldn’t manage living two separate lives. So the issue is that you can have all the policies in place to prevent discrimination and harassment, but do people change? I took the opportunity to serve with the Australians and I said to myself ‘I will give the [Canadian military] people three years.’”

Capt(N) Cassivi’s time away from Canada was liberating. The Australians effectively dealt with integrating sexual minorities within their armed forces and he found his time away to be restorative. He returned to Canada in 1997 with a renewed sense of hope. “Being in the closet was untenable. Now I wasn’t shy, pretentious and was more honest with myself and my colleagues. And I was now beyond the path of being shamed by insensitive comments.”

He went on to command HMCS Windsor.

“In the submarine community, our culture values competence over all other considerations; really, the rest doesn’t matter. I was lucky to have this community.”

Capt(N) Cassivi has no regrets about his experiences in the CF.  His career is a success story. He has commanded three submarines, one frigate and is a graduate of the United States Naval War College.

Today, studies indicate that “integration” has made no impact on military performance, operational readiness, cohesion or morale in the CF.  

The CF’s most recent step in the integration of sexual minorities within the ranks came with CANFORGEN 031/12, published this past February – Management of CF Transsexual Members. The policy provides guidance to leaders whose subordinates may be diagnosed with gender identity disorder.

Capt(N) Cassivi has a special message for gays, lesbians and transgendered members of the defence team.

“It is still difficult for people to come out of the closet, but serving in the CF should be a reason. CF leaders are amongst the best in the world and have a solid reputation for tolerance, fairness and compassion when looking after their people. Do not be shy to turn to someone you trust if unsure as to what to do. I am very happy to see a generation of personnel serving outwardly as gays and lesbians. They, like many others, symbolize the real change that took place in the 1990s.

Competence and your desire to serve is what matters. I trust that this will remain a strong tenant of our culture.”

Corporate Internal Communications, Maple Leaf

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