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  • Writer's pictureMartin Zeilig

17 Wing Winnipeg Pride Opening Ceremony

A multicoloured Pride Flag fluttered at the top of the flagpole in the morning breeze on May 27 at the Parade Square.

Royal Canadian Air Force Commander, Lieutenant-General Al Meinzinger, raises the “Progress Pride Flag” during 17 Wing’s Pride Ceremony at the Stevenson Parade Square at 17 Wing Winnipeg, Manitoba on May 27, 2022 Photo: MCpl Justin Ancelin, 17 Operations Support Squadron Imaging, Winnipeg

Cheers and clapping erupted spontaneously from many of those in attendance at the 17 Wing Winnipeg Pride Opening Ceremony.

The flag had been raised by Captain Jacklyn Zacher and Lieutenant-General Alexander Donald Meinzinger, Commander of the RCAF.

The Pride Flag is one of the most well-known and used LGBTQ2+ flags throughout history.

It includes the colours red, orange, yellow, green, indigo, and violet.

The ceremony, which also included the official unveiling of the Rainbow Crosswalk, was organized by the Winnipeg Defence Team Pride Advisory Organization, Canada/Winnipeg Pride chair and RCAF leadership.

Some 50 military members and civilian employees were in attendance at the ceremony.

The RCAF Band, featuring vocalist Warrant Officer David Grenon, performed a number of songs from such popular artists as Queen and Elton John, among others.

Speakers at the ceremony were WO Grenon, DTPAO Co-Chair; Captain Jacklyn Zacher: LG Meinzinger, Colonel David Proteau, 17 Wing Commander; Barry Karlenzig, Canada/Winnipeg Pride Chair; and, Chief Warrant Officer John Hall, RCAF CWO.

The MC was Master Warrant Officer Lisa Powers.

Also present were the command teams of 1 CAD and 2 CAD, honorary colonels from all across the country, and Wing CWO Claude Faucher.

“It’s real special to be here to take part in this event and the unveiling of the pride walkway here,” said LCol Meinzinger, who flew in from Ottawa especially for the ceremony.

“It’s a super symbol of the diversity and inclusion and the focus we have in the RCAF. I really wanted to be here to give a shout out to the entire LGBTQ2+ community.”

He called the Rainbow Progress Pride Crosswalk “a real strong symbol” of progress and respect “across our organization.”

Pride Opening Ceremony in support of diversity and inclusion in the Canadian Forces on May 27th, 2022, at 17 Wing Winnipeg. Photo by: MCpl Darryl Hepner, 17 Wing Public Affairs, Winnipeg, Mb

“Diversity is a strength that is essential to our military’s operational effectiveness and long-term success,” he emphasized.

“We are committed to working with all members of our team to ensure that everyone feels that they’re a part of that team and can succeed where they feel they’re being their authentic selves in an environment where they can reach their full potential and thrive.

Without a doubt diverse experiences and abilities and perspectives makes us a stronger, vibrant and more effective team.

The RCAF is a proud ally of LGBTQ2+ communities, and I’m an ally myself and I’m thankful to every member of the RCAF for their important contributions to our mission’s success. You continue to play a pivotal role in Canada’s safety and security. We celebrate your contributions to the RCAF.”

CWO Hall referred to comments made by CWO Necole Belanger, a member of the LGBTQ2+ community, who was a speaker at a recent CAF CWO Council farewell event.

“If I had not lied about who I was, I would not be standing here today,’” CWO Belanger said at that gathering.

CWO Hall said he and others in attendance were affected by her words.

“If we look closer at Necole’s career, she served as a member of the Military Police,” he continued.

Ironically, she was hiding in plain sight as a member of the very organization that was hunting people like her, and now, as she completes her career, she is the Command CWO of the very organization which would have removed her security clearance had she been discovered.

“I cannot even begin to imagine what Necole and many other members of the LGBTQ2+ community experienced in their career— how they were never permitted to just ‘be themselves,’ or to openly love who they chose to love.

To do that would have put them at risk of not being able to do what they wanted to do— which was simply to serve Canada as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces.

In the near future, we will have an Appearance chapter in our dress regulations which will permit our members more latitude, in order to better represent their true self when in uniform.

Institutionally, we are putting forth a concerted effort to create a Canadian Armed Forces where our members can thrive, not just survive.

An inclusive CAF and RCAF where everyone is welcome, where everyone has an equal voice, and where nobody needs to lie about who they are.”

Excerpts from other speakers: Col Proteau:

“I’m fully committed to continuing to foster a workplace that is open, inclusive, diverse and respectful of every one of our members. Working in conjunction with our DTPO today, we further demonstrate our commitment to diversity, inclusion and a growing cultural change with the raising of the progress pride flag and the unveiling of our new progress pride crosswalk.”

Capt Zacher, who works at 1 CAD as the executive assistant to the Deputy Commander, is the new military co-chair of DTPAO taking over from Warrant Officer David Grenon:

“Today was amazing from the music to the speeches to the people that were here.

Having the Commander of the Air Force here with his chief to show support that they’re allies and are working towards an inclusive future.

It was really moving, especially Chief Hall’s speech about his friend and how she was in hiding and working for an organization that was hunting down people like her.

I’m glad we’ve moved on from that. We’re an equal work place. You can love who you love. It’s fine. Today was awesome.”

WO Grenon commenting on the appearance of LGen Meinzinger and CWO Hall at the ceremony:

“Your presence means a lot to us today. For many of us, it’s a symbol of acceptance and inclusion and diversity within our own organizations.

It’s the recognition of decades of persecution and mistreatment of LGBTQ2+ members of the Defence Team, and the will to change culture within the Canadian Armed Forces and DND.

When I saw the flag raised this morning, I couldn’t help think of all the survivors of the purge who paved the way for us to live freely and in a more inclusive organization.

I’d also like to reflect about how far we’ve gotten over the past few years.

We now have a fully grown organization of over 30 civilian and military members, and also with the Reserves units in Winnipeg, and are paving the way across Canada and mentoring other local organizations so they can form their own advisory groups.

Ever since Colonel Proteau took over command of this base, he took a very active role in diversity and inclusion wanting to understand the needs of his community better.

He truly wanted to be an actor of change within the CAF.

It’s thanks to leaders like him that we’re able to be heard at the local level and get support when it comes to influencing positive change within the workplace.”

He also mentioned that this year marks the 30th anniversary of the end of the CAF’s purge against LGBTQ2+ people.

Mr. Karlenzig, who’s been with Pride Winnipeg for the past 10 years:

“It’s a true honour to be here three years in a row and see the military becoming more progressive year after year.

Winnipeg is very diverse. We’re not perfect we know that. But, we’re getting better year after year. But, looking at 17 Wing, it’s more inclusive than other Wings in Canada.

That’s also true of the DTPAO starting here, and the diversity we have here with (WO) David (Grenon) and Colonel Proteau.

It’s amazing to see the progress that’s been made. It shouldn’t matter who or where you are anymore. It is because of all of you here today that such milestones can be celebrated.

“You protect our rights and freedoms and not only the Canadian flag, but every flag people identify with. I can’t thank you enough for what you do everyday to protect our rights and freedoms as Canadians.”

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