Nearly a year after joining the Canadian military at the age of 23, Marilyn “Lindy-Jo” Aston was discharged for being gay.
The Yukoner sat down with the Star Thursday afternoon to talk about her experience as one of the LGBTQ2 Canadians who received an apology from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week for decades of discrimination in the public service and the military.
In the fall of 1980, Ontario Provincial Police pulled up to bust Aston and her girlfriend for parking in a farmer’s field and doing what so many young couples seek an isolated parking spot for.
The young women, both rookie soldiers training in Kingston, weren’t charged by the police. But they did show their Canadian military ID cards.
“A week or two later, the military hauled us in,” Aston told the Star.
She figures the police tipped them off to the fact that two female soldiers were in a sexual relationship.
“The investigation was pretty ugly,” Aston said.
She confessed to her superiors that she was gay.
“Then they said, ‘prove it.’ It wasn’t enough that you laid yourself out; you had to somehow give them details.
“They were so gross, it was gross, it was delving into your personal, private life ... Who should have the right to that?” Aston asked.
And it wasn’t just privacy that the Canadian military’s witch-hunt cost Aston. The officials interrogating soldiers suspected to be gay wanted other names.
“When I was hauled in, you could just feel it amongst your friends and co-workers that they were all nervous,” Aston said Thursday.
“Really paranoid that just by associating with you, it would bring the same result to them, that they would be kicked out.
“So you’re going to lose your job and then you lose your support system.”
Aston was discharged in March 1981. The rationale, she said, was that gay Canadian soldiers posed a security threat. Apparently, they were potential targets for enemy blackmail.
“In fact, it was our own government that was blackmailing us.”
The girlfriend who was caught alongside Aston attempted suicide.
Aston said she suspects she wasn’t the only one to do so after being ousted in the military’s witch-hunt.
“I was not terribly hard-done by. I hadn’t invested in that as a career. But some people had. So I feel more for them.”
Aston went on to find another job, move from Ottawa to the Yukon, and build a life here.
Then came the apology.
At first, Aston said she was skeptical, anticipating the kind of short statement that essentially lives and dies in the House of Commons.
But those expectations were exceeded, she explained, when the prime minister delivered his speech.
“Holy cow, it was very well-written, and Justin Trudeau delivered passionately.”
Even better, Aston said, was the fact that the Conservatives also stood to back up the Liberal statement.
Now living in the Yukon and working as a contractor, Aston said she feels free and accepted.
“When I came here, I said, ‘no more charades, no more editing what I say or how I say it.’
“And I’ve always had open doors... I have felt that I could be who I am.