RCN recognizes transgender resilience

Lieutenant (Navy) Michele Newman

Lieutenant (Navy) Michele Newman

Peter Mallett, 
Staff Writer 

The transgender pride flag fluttered atop flagpoles at Naden, Work Point and Duntze Head during the colours ceremonies on March 31. 

Similar flag raisings also played out over the Easter long weekend at military bases across Canada. It was an opportunity for the Canadian Armed Forces and the Defence Team Pride Advisory Organizations (DTPAO) to provide official recognition for the International Transgender Day of Visibility held annually on March 31. The day celebrates the resilience and courage of transgender people who are able to be, and express, themselves while also raising awareness of the discrimination faced nationally and worldwide.

One military member proudly celebrating the day of recognition is CFB Esquimalt’s DTPAO Military Co-Chair and Engineering Officer Lieutenant (Navy) Michele Newman of Naval Training Group Headquarters.

“This day of recognition is so important because it represents the ability for transgender people to be visible, not just in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), but everywhere that recognizes us,” said Lt(N) Newman. “Transgender people have been minimized and discriminated against for so long, it has been severely detrimental. Being able to see other transgender people, as well as the acknowledgement and support, helps combat that stigma.”

Last year, while she was the Engineering Officer of the Marine Systems Engineering Department aboard HMCS Calgary, Lt(N) Newman finally felt ready and safe enough to come out to her department and shipmates as a transgender woman.

“To my delight, it was a moment of nothing but acceptance for me, acknowledgement and support from my shipmates and it was a great feeling,” said Lt(N) Newman. “I got hugs, many offers of support, and even some applause.”

The moment of truth was years in the making, says Lt(N) Newman who spent the first 14 years of her naval career supressing and hiding her identity, and many years before that as a child. Her coming-out moment marked a departure point for a brighter, happier future where she could finally be true to herself. 

Lt(N) Newman is convinced the International Transgender Day of Visibility being recognized on military institutions is a vital component to breaking down the walls of discrimination and enforcing that transgender identities are valid and accepted in the CAF. 

“We want to be accepted. To live, to laugh, to love, and feel safe, just like everyone else,” she said. 

Coming out to her peers was not only an important personal moment of courage for her but also, to her surprise, for others aboard the ship. In the days following her announcement, other members approached her for advice and support. She hopes that after hearing her story, others will think differently about transgender identities and have the courage to be themselves in the workplace.

“I think we are evolving in a more positive direction, but transgender people are still facing stigma and barriers in our public and private lives, so awareness and understanding is an important part of the approach to move things forward,” said Lt(N) Newman.  

Steven Cleugh, DTPAO Civilian Co-Chair, says military transgender members need congratulations, support, and understanding for their courage and perseverance.

“I have family and friends that are transgender and I see firsthand the discrimination and prejudice they face every day,” said Cleugh. “In my role with the DTPAO, I also see the courage our transgender members put forward and am in awe of their ability to weather the storm.”

The first International Transgender Day of Visibility 

The first International Transgender Day of Visibility occurred in 2009 and dedicated itself to celebrating the resilience and success of transgender people worldwide while recognizing the discrimination, poverty, and violence they face.

The first observance at CFB Esquimalt occurred in 2021. That historic moment included participation by other transgender members at the Base, including Chief Petty Officer Second Class Lynne Edmondson and Sailor First Class Danielle Dewitt, in the flag-raising ceremony at Duntze Head.

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