Edmonton Garrison hosts first Pride march at Canadian Forces base

Canadian Forces history was made in Edmonton Friday as soldiers, family, and friends marched together in the first Pride parade at a military base.

Military members waved Pride flags, and tanks and trucks were decorated with Pride memorabilia as they moved through Canadian Forces Base Edmonton.

Maj. John McDougall joined the Canadian Armed Forces in the early 90s when the military prohibited people who identified as gay from serving.

"I used to have to put on two uniforms," McDougall said. "I'd put on my military uniform, and then I'd put on my 'straight John uniform.'"

"The military police and RCMP came knocking on my door and arrested me for being gay," he added. "I look back at that time as a marker. That's where we were. Events like that are what lead to events like today."

That ban would be lifted in 1992. Today, McDougall says he holds no animosity or hatred towards the military.

"Now I get to wear just one uniform," McDougall said. "A uniform that says we're inclusive, we're welcoming. We want this to be a safe place for anyone that wants to be a member of the Canadian Armed Forces."

Master Sailor Antoine Lavoie, co-chair of the Defense Team Pride Advisory Organization (DTPAO), said starting a base-wide Pride parade means the world for members of the LGBTQ2S+ community.

"To be honest, it felt kind of crazy and surreal that I was actually in uniform marching on a base, and I was welcome," Lavoie said. "The support was tremendous."

For McDougall, the past few years of not being allowed to participate in other Edmonton Pride events or parades and the pandemic proved difficult for many queer service members.

Now a DTPAO champion, McDougall shared how Friday marked the third 'first' of his military career, including marching in the first Pride parade in Toronto allowing armed forces members, and raising the Pride flag at the Edmonton Garrison in 2013.

"Today, I cannot define how I feel. My buttons are going to burst off my shirt; my chest is so big," he added.

"We can put out policy, but we can't make people be inclusive, and these people are here because they choose to be part of our family."

Col. Rob McBride, 3rd Canadian Division Support Group commander, said he was humbled to take part in the march.

"I've been in the military now for 29 years, and I can say during that 29 years, we've come leaps and bounds ahead of where we were," he said. "The inclusivity now, the strength that that inclusivity brings to the defence team is truly phenomenal.

"Without being an inclusive organization, there's no way we'd be able to be as prepared and as ready as we are for the operations we have to partake in."