In the Interest of the State

By Kinsman, Gary | Canadian Dimension, September-October 1998 | Go to article overview

In the Interest of the State


Kinsman, Gary, Canadian Dimension


The National Security Campaign Against Gay Men and Lesbians

On April 14, 1998 we released a research report titled "In the Interests of the State: The Anti-Gay, Anti-Lesbian National Security Campaigns in Canada" at a media conference in Ottawa with representatives of the Canadian Labour Congress, Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere, and the Public Service Alliance of Canada there to show their support for the report's recommendations. This was the first major research into the social organization of the "national security" campaigns against gay men and lesbians in Canada.

A brief media feeding frenzy ensued and for a short period some major mass media attention was focused on this topic. As I was fielding media questions that day I began to discern some of the frameworks they were attempting to use to interpret or 'work up' this story. One was that the "Canadian public" was now supposedly fed up with equality-seeking groups coming forward to ask for apologies, commissions of inquiry, and compensation for careers and lives that had been destroyed. In this context many journalists leaped at the brief mention of compensation in the recommendations and focused in on this to the exclusion of the recommendations for an official apology, for a commission of inquiry, for an end to continuing discrimination regarding security clearances, for full spousal and family recognition rights within the public service and military, for making it easier to access national security information on the 1950s and 1960s, and support for gay, lesbian, bisexual history and archival projects.

Another attempted media frame was to suggest that in the context of the Cold War of the 1950s and 1960s that concerns over "black-mail" and "security risks" were justified. I was quick to point out that a number of the gay men and lesbians that we had talked to who were purged from their jobs or interrogated by the RCMP reported that the only people who tried to blackmail them were the RCMP who tried to force them to give the names of other homosexuals.

Although the media was not very successful in establishing these frames, they still tended to neglect the report's main substance - the detrimental effects of these campaigns, which were organized at the highest levels of the Canadian state, for the lives of hundreds and perhaps thousands of people. They also seemed not to notice the significance of a CSIS spokesperson's remarks on CBC radio that CSIS would still in 1998 deny a security clearance to a closeted homosexual because of supposed blackmail concerns. The media missed the importance of the critique which the report develops of the very conceptualization of "national security" which has so often been used against socialists, peace activists, immigrants, Native activists, Quebec sovereignists, and gays and lesbians.

History from Below

Since 1994 Patrizia Gentile, Heidi McDonell, Mary-Mahood Greer and myself have been engaged in research on the national security campaigns against gay men and lesbians in Canada. While other aspects of the security campaigns in Canada against the unions, the Communist Party and socialists have been documented to some extent there has been little documentation and analysis of the national security campaigns against gay men and lesbians which affected thousands of people.

We draw on two major sources of data in the report. The first is interviews with people who were directly affected by these security campaigns. So far we have spoken to 20 gay men and five lesbians who were directly affected. We have learned from these men and women a great deal about how people's lives were affected by the national security campaigns and how they actively negotiated these security policies. This research is distinctive in emphasizing that a great deal can be learned regarding the social organization of national security by starting from the accounts of those who were most directly affected. …

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