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Opinion For the countless Canadians humiliated by anti-gay policies, healing can finally begin

Svend Robinson was Canada's first openly gay MP. He is now based in Geneva with The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.

I join in the celebration of the news that the Trudeau government may be moving forward to acknowledge the legacy of discrimination, violence, pain, suffering, imprisonment and yes, death that has taken a devastating toll on lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans Canadians over the years.

But I am also filled with sadness and loss that so many of those who were victims of these inhumane policies are not alive to witness this historic day:

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The men and women in the public service and RCMP who were hounded out of their jobs after being subjected to the humiliation of polygraph tests. The countless LGBT youth who felt worthless after being thrown out of their homes, and engaged in unsafe sex – then died of AIDS.

The dedicated members of the Canadian Armed Forces who were fired, deemed "not advantageously employable," after being spied on in gay bars, having their love letters read, and being reported to their commanding officers by colleagues who were forced to name names.

The gay men who were hauled into court on charges of gross indecency, lives shattered, families broken and jobs lost, whose only offence was loving another man.

Background: How Ottawa punished thousands of public servants for being gay

Investigation: Everett Klippert's story: The long, late redemption of a man punished for being gay in the 1960s

Editorial: Gay Canadians, and an apology due

Many Canadians do not know that it was only in 1985 that the offence of gross indecency was struck from the law books. Yes, Pierre Trudeau decriminalized homosexuality in 1969, but it was only legal in private between two consenting adults of 21 or over. If I made love with a classmate when I graduated from Burnaby North that same year, 1969, I was a criminal.

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When I came out publicly in 1988 as Canada's first openly gay MP, it was still legal to fire us from our jobs, deny access to basic services, throw us out of our homes, promote hatred and violence and deny any recognition of our relationships and families, solely because of who we loved.

And it was not until 1992 that the Canadian Armed Forces finally struck down the law barring LGBT people from serving their country, in response to the lawsuit brought by courageous and brilliant young Second Lieutenant Michelle Douglas.

As recently as 2001, Aaron Webster, a gay man in Vancouver, was brutally beaten to death with baseball bats in Stanley Park by a gang of homophobic thugs. Still today, trans people in Canada face legal discrimination and violence, and LGBT youth too often do not feel safe and loved in their homes and their communities.

I commend Egale and its Just Society report, sparked by The Globe and Mail's reporting, and the many people like activist Gary Kinsman and lawyer Barbara Findlay who have fought so long and so hard to make this day possible.

But one of the most important elements of the comprehensive federal government response must be an opportunity for those whose lives were affected by these inhumane policies to share their stories.

This is the greatest tribute that we can pay to those whose lives were lost due to these policies, to tell their stories, to honour their memories, to do everything in our power to recognize and compensate and undo where possible the wrongdoing to those still living.

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The journey that we are about to embark on can be a very powerful learning experience, not only for us in Canada, but hopefully one that can be shared globally. Canada is truly a world leader on this journey, and I hope that our leadership will inspire other countries to take similar action to acknowledge the wrongs of the past and help to heal those wounds today for those who still bear the scars.

We need to share these lessons so that our world will be a place where all of our LGBT sisters and brothers are treated with dignity and respect. What a great 150th birthday present from Canada.

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