D’Arcy Gauthier has a glimmer in his eye as he speaks with pride about his decade in the military.
A “military brat” growing up, moving from base to base, he dropped out of school in November 1981 and enlisted as soon as he could, just after his 17th birthday.
He was top of the class in basic training, rising through the ranks to Master Corporal, chosen for special duties that involved both the Queen of England and the Pope during the Cold War in the 1980s.
“I was a very good soldier,” Gauthier recounts with a smile during a chat about his career on the back deck at this Chilliwack home.
Being a good solider at that time wasn’t good enough. And being a gay soldier meant you were a “sexual deviant.”
After extensive investigation, interrogations and humiliating treatment of his wife and two children, Gauthier was shamed out of the military in Canada’s now-notorious LGBT purge.
“I was told I’m an embarrassment to my family and my family’s military service,” Gauthier said, adding that he can’t remember the names of his commanding officer or his military police interrogators.
“But I don’t think I’ll ever forget their faces”
After discharge, there were the haunting words on his military records, papers he burned in a park in Toronto right around the time he was briefly homeless: “Sexual deviant.”
But Gauthier has his redemption after his visit to Ottawa on Nov. 28. It was there he looked into the eyes of Justin Trudeau after the prime minister’s direct apology to 70 LGBTQ people kicked out in the purge.
A career on the rise
Gauthier’s family moved from Chilliwack to CFB Borden in Ontario in August 1981. Three months later he dropped out of school and was off to what turned out to be a very successful basic training in Cornwallis, Nova Scotia in 1982.
He had his first pick of postings, a reward for being top of his class so he chose Comox because he wanted to be in the Air Force and he wanted to be close to his parents who were now back in Chilliwack. He worked for the anti-submarine air force squadron scanning the Pacific for subs.
Gauthier moved into administrative duties and had several experiences in that role. He was selected as chief protocol clerk at a conference of defence ministers from countries all over the world. The protocol clerk’s job was to do things like, ensure the wife of one minister had orchids in her hotel room, and that another minister not be seated next to another he didn’t like.
“That was a reward for being a good solider,” Gauthier said. “I got to do special things like that. I had a really good career.”
His next posting was at the 7th CFSD Edmonton, a division that supplied all of Western Canada with anything needed, and two years later he and his wife and two children were relocated to CFB Kingston. This was 1 Canada Signals Regiment, “hardcore army,” as he puts it.
“It was not for me,” he said, but he endured because he was focused on his career, and to thrive and rise through the ranks that meant serving all four elements: air, land, sea and headquarters.
Then came the beginning of the end for Gauthier. He was selected for an award for his work teaching air cadets. He and his wife were flown to Edmonton for the ceremony, after which they attended a party.
“I went into the kitchen to get a drink for my wife and I and there were two guys there,” he said. “All of a sudden this guy kissed me. Then I knew what all my feelings were about.”
Raised in smaller communities, in military circles, Gauthier didn’t know many gay people. And, it turns out, until that moment, he didn’t even know he was gay.
Back to Kingston, it was now September 1989, and for three months he was in a real depression.
“How the hell am I going to tell my wife?”
Finally, he broke down before Christmas and told her. For a young couple, Gauthier said the two were very adult about it, they figured out the paperwork themselves and, by the new year, they were divorced.
Then came the military investigation as part of a systemic government policy of harassment, persecution and prosecution, what was later known as the LGBT Purge.
His wife was forced to make a statement. He was followed by military police, harassed sometimes and stopped for no reason.
Then there was the infamous “fruit machine,” a lie detector test developed in Canada created decades earlier to detect gay men in the military.
“They brought you into dark rooms and asked you questions: Do you like men? Do you like women? Why did you have children? Have you ever slept with a man? Do you like the male physique?”
It was traumatizing, but the worst part was for his boy, Joel.
“The kids found out,” Gauthier said. “At four years old, sorry I can’t play with you because your dad is a fag. Joel had a really hard time of it.”
career shut down
Bullied into signing his own release from the military, just short of his 10-year mark in service, which would have meant a further extension of a contract and he was even in line for another promotion, it was all over.
His marriage. His career. Over.
“I ended up moving to Toronto,” he said. “Kicked out of the military, I had no money. Do you know how hard it is when all you know is the military?”
Things went from bad to worse. Gauthier had a boyfriend who cheated on him so he beat him up and ended up in the Don Jail. His ex-wife drove from Kingston to bail him out, but he decided he needed to deal with his own problems so he went back to Toronto.
“I was homeless for three and a half months,” he said. “Do you know how hard it is to get a job when you are homeless?”
He was too humiliated to take welfare, and he finally landed a job for a shelter, driving around picking up food from restaurants and hotels. He kept applying for jobs but was overqualified to be an entry-level front-office person with his extensive military administrative skills.
Finally he landed a good job, but even there he was eventually fired for being gay when new owners came in.
“I ended up winning a really healthy settlement so I took that and studied to be a Realtor,” he said.
After that, some time in Costa Rica running a business, now back to Chilliwack he has a partner and he takes care of his parents in his house.
It was just earlier this year that some victims of the LGBT Purge began to come together to demand an apology. A class action lawsuit was launched and as part of a settlement reached on Nov. 24, an agreement in principle was put in place to divvy up $145 million. Individual compensation to those kicked out of the military will be a minimum of $5,000, up to a maximum of $150,000 based on the level of harm suffered.
There are a number of other elements of the settlement, but most importantly was an apology in writing from the Prime Minister.
Thousands of men and women were kicked out of services for being gay, but Gauthier was one of just 70 invited to hear Trudeau’s apology in person.
Leading up to the apology, those involved were asked for input on what they wanted to see in an apology.
“I wanted to be able to see the pain on the face of the Prime Minister,” he said. “I want to know that they truly were sorry for everything that they did to us.
“I got what I wanted.”
Gauthier said he and those involved were generally extremely happy with the apology, and the sincerity behind it.
A Tweet from Chief of Defence Staff account put it well, in Gauthier’s opinion.
“I am deeply sorry to all of you who were ever investigated, charged or released from the military because of your sexual orientation. You showed us honour and dedication and we showed you the door”
Gauthier believes Trudeau is truly sorry, and the apology was emotional and helpful moving forward after having his military career ruined.
“It was quite amazing actually,” he said of the apology. “There was a woman who was part of our group in her 70s. She was sitting right in front of Trudeau. He went right up to her after, he hugged her and started sobbing with her.”
“I came back empowered.”
I am deeply sorry to all of you who were ever investigated, charged or released from the military because of your sexual orientation. You showed us honour and dedication and we showed you the door #LGBTQ2 https://t.co/GcJ5YRtNv8 pic.twitter.com/8DdfBCdMWA
— CDS Canada CEMD (@CDS_Canada_CEMD) November 28, 2017