The RCN’s summer of Pride

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Navy News / August 17, 2016

By Darlene Blakeley

The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) strives to be reflective of the nation we serve, proudly embracing diversity and inclusivity within our ranks and our communities. Many units in the RCN have taken part in Pride celebrations across the country to mark the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) Canadians.  

“We have a lot to celebrate in the CAF,” says Rear-Admiral John Newton, Commander Maritime Forces Atlantic (MARLANT). “We have worked hard at Operation HONOUR [an internal program designed to eliminate harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour within the CAF] and made progress around respecting gender and identity differences. Diversity is a source of strength and flexibility, and plays a pivotal role in ensuring that the RCN remains a strong, innovative and forward-looking organization.”

The Halifax Pride parade, just one of the many LGBTQ events across the nation, was held on July 23, when approximately 100 sailors and other CAF members, accompanied by RAdm Newton, marched shoulder-to-shoulder through the streets carrying Canadian flags and Pride flags to show their support for inclusivity, diversity and respect in the workplace.

“For several years now we have encouraged members to march in uniform in the annual Halifax Pride parade; however, this was the first time there was an official military presence,” said RAdm Newton. “The parade was an exciting event that celebrated the very best of our city and country.”

As well, this year marked the first time MARLANT raised the Pride flag throughout the formation, with flags going up around Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Halifax and units of the fleet simultaneously at 8 a.m. on the morning of the parade. A number of the RCN’s Naval Reserve Divisions flew the flag as well, including Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Cabot in St. John’s, HMCS Prevost in London, and HMCS York in Toronto.

The Toronto Pride parade is the biggest one in the country, with a large RCN contingent getting involved. York, and its sister NRD in Hamilton, HMCS Star, along with personnel from other units, have participated in the parade since 2007.

“Every year we turn out a volunteer contingent for the parade, and most years we have our band in the parade as well,” says Commander Rob Johnston, Commanding Officer of HMCS York. “Historically the navy has made up over 90 per cent of the CAF’s contingent, now usually numbering over 60 members.”

“By proudly walking in Pride parades the RCN sends a loud and clear message that we welcome everyone and support all our members. We were especially honoured to be led this year in the parade by our new Commander RCN, Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd; as well as Commodore Luc Cassivi, Director-General Naval Staff Requirements; and Chief Petty Officer 1st Class Tom Riefesel, the RCN’s Chief Petty Officer,” adds Cdr Johnston. “Tangible proof of the navy’s support and commitment to Pride and diversity can hardly get more powerful than that!”

As a member of the LGBTQ community himself, Cdr Johnston says he is “immensely proud of the navy’s, and indeed the entire CAF’s, real and palpable commitment to diversity and inclusiveness.”

“Having served in the Reserve Force for 38 years, as well as working in business almost as long, I have seen a huge amount of very positive change in our culture and I can honestly say I think we are in the vanguard as an employer,” he says.

The CAF is committed to preventing discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity through education and awareness programs, ensuring that all LGBTQ members are seen as a valued and integral part of the CAF and that they enjoy the same rights as any other person to work in a harassment-free workplace.

As an example, CFB Halifax recently set up a Positive Space Initiative, a workplace diversity program originally created by the Ontario Public Service, and sanctioned by the Treasury Board for the Federal Public Service in 2013.

“The overall goal of the Positive Space Initiative is to enhance the work experiences of LGBTQ employees by creating a safer, more tolerant, open-minded environment,” explains Stephanie Cranham, Acting Manager, Human Resources Planning and Programs. “It engages volunteer champions who promote diversity in the workplace. Through staff training, general professional development opportunities and awareness campaigns, the Positive Space Initiative aims to prevent inappropriate behaviour so people can feel safe in their workplace.”

Currently, federal departments and agencies are free to adopt the initiative and develop their own guidelines based on the original concept.

According to Commander Wayne DiPersio, Chief of Staff at CFB Halifax, senior leadership is fully on board. “Promoting diversity and inclusiveness in the workforce is not only the right thing to do and in line with the ethics and values of the CAF, but it also contributes greatly to the creation and maintenance of a healthy, happy and productive workforce, which in turn produces dividends in the form of efficiency and operational output.”

In Pride events and diversity programs all across the country, sailors from both Regular and Reserve Force units, and civilians, are showing their deep respect for Canada’s diverse population, and proving they value its reflection within their own ranks.