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At the Front Line of Equality: How This 2SLGBTQ+ Leader Fought Back Against Discrimination and Won

Martine Roy, a leading voice in 2SLGBTQ+ advocacy and Regional Manager for 2SLGBTQ+ Business Development at TD, has forged a path of resilience and activism.

By Sarah Walker

Martine Roy, an activist and Regional Manager for 2SLGBTQ+ Business Development in Québec and Eastern Canada for TD, was like most teens.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Martine recalls. “I was hanging out with the wrong crowd, and my dad wanted me to make a decision about [where I was headed]. I applied to the army and Katimavik, [a national program that helps young adults learn new skills in communities across Canada].”

She was accepted by both and initially ended up choosing the latter, though the experience wasn’t what she expected. 

“I was not happy,” she says. “It wasn’t right for me. [I told a harmless fib to the program director and said] I had been accepted into the army and had to leave. I went back to Montréal, and my girlfriend and my dad found out why I had left the program. He told me that because I said I was going to join the army, that’s what he expected I would do. In 1983, at 19 years old, I joined the [Canadian Armed Forces].”

It was a move that would eventually propel Martine into the spotlight as one of a few 2SLGBTQ+ individuals who were subjected to brutal interrogations about their sexual orientation by army officials. She was forced to undergo psychiatric treatment and pressured to admit she was a lesbian by her bosses. 

In December 1984, she was “dishonourably dismissed” in line with Canadian Forces Administrative Order (CFAO) 19-20, an Act that required members of the military who were suspected of being homosexual to be investigated and subsequently fired. 

This policy, aimed at identifying and expelling 2SLGBTQ+ from the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP, and Canadian public service, eventually became known as the “LGBT Purge.” 

And in 2016, Martine along with two other plaintiffs launched a nationwide class action lawsuit against the Canadian government for the discrimination they faced. It culminated in 2017 with an apology from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (available here), and a historic financial settlement of $145 million CAD — funds which are now being used to support other LGBT Purge victims. 

“We, especially women, have to believe in ourselves,” Martine, a recipient of the Order of Canada and one of this year’s Top 25 Women of Influence honourees, says of what she’s learned through her life and career. “All along the way, people put up obstacles to our success. We put up barriers ourselves. But you have to embrace things. You can do more than you think you can. You can make a difference. You can get people to do things differently. Even when you’re in pain, you are capable of doing more than you think is possible.”

Life pre- and post-purge

Martine was born in Montréal in 1963, the youngest of three girls, to a well-known family with deep roots in the city. Her grandfather owned a large piece of land there, while her father was a cinematographer for the National Film Board of Canada. 

Her life, she says, was exciting, creative, and eclectic. 

“It was nice growing up,” she recalls. “I had a great childhood and felt a lot of support,” even when she opened up about being a lesbian.

Her biggest challenge was school. “I didn’t like it and didn’t do well at it,” Martine says. “I tried to work in film like my dad. I went to school for psychology, which I wasn’t crazy about. I was a little bit punk and wasn’t always making the best decisions,” but she adds she was happy, and she was very excited about joining the army.

“I was very proud of [the work I was doing with the Canadian Armed Forces],” Martine says. “I was sent to CFB Borden to be a medical assistant. It felt like I was going to have a long and rewarding military career. I was helping people and my country.” 

Then, she was arrested and interrogated and called a ‘deviant’ for not being heterosexual. “It was extremely traumatic,” she shares. “I felt dirty. I felt worthless. It was humiliating. I felt like a bad person.”

For years afterwards, she couldn’t hold down a job or a relationship. She began to take drugs to cope with the pain, and eventually ended up in a rehab centre called Portage, where she got sober, began extensive therapy, and landed a job as a parent-child program director. The work was enough for her to secure a position at a major technology firm, a move that changed the trajectory of her future.

“I didn’t think a company like this existed when I started working there,” she says of the career move. “I joined a major technology firm right before Y2K, providing hardware, software, and call centre support. I was so scared I would face discrimination for who I was again, then I learned that [this company was an outlier for inclusivity]. It was a place where I felt I could finally be me.” 

A new path forward

As Martine’s confidence grew, so, too, did her determination to help and support her 2SLGBTQ+ peers. 

She launched resource groups within the organization; coordinated the first ever Pride parade in Saint John; co-founded Pride at Work Canada, a Toronto-based organization that inspires employers to create work environments that celebrate all staff members, regardless of their gender expression, identity or sexual orientation; and launched the class action lawsuit against the Government of Canada over the LGBT Purge. 

She says she left the organization in 2020 because she saw an opportunity with TD — another company that truly walks the inclusivity talk — to expand her message about equality for 2SLGBTQ+ communities into the world of banking. In 1994, TD began offering spousal benefits to its employees in a same-sex relationship and began covering affirmative surgeries for its employees and their family. It was the first Canadian financial institution to do so. 

“With TD, I’m doing even more to support those within the 2SLGBTQ+ community from a financial perspective,” Martine says. “In my role, I can help queer people open a restaurant or a gay person who wants to open a store. This role can help change the way people see 2SLGBTQ+ business owners, and that’s huge.”

Today, Martine says her goal is to help 2SLGBTQ+ individuals build the kind of life that she now leads — one where she feels confident and comfortable in her own skin and can live freely and safely with her wife and two kids. 

She’s also pushing through her trauma by working with the Canadian Armed Forces and Foreign Affairs to help prevent what happened to her and her peers from happening again. “I’m still passionate about the military [even after everything] and want to ensure it survives long-term,” Martine says.

She thinks back to some of the best advice she’s ever been given — advice that may help those who are struggling to find their own path — and references her father. 

“My dad used to tell me that the worst thing that could happen if I asked someone for something was that they’d say ‘no’,” she says. “And that’s true. You have to lean into things. You just have to say, ‘I’ll do it’ even if it will be difficult or if you may get turned away.” 

“There are so many things we, [marginalized groups], are up against from the moment we’re born,” she adds. “I can’t count how many times I’ve been at a [meeting] and have had men waiting for me to say something stupid, but those kinds of behaviours are changing. More than ever, we need to work together [to keep building the kinds of inclusive workplaces and communities we want for our kids]. We have come so far; there is always more to do. And that’s what makes this work, and my fight, worth it. We can change the narrative, so everyone feels like they belong — because they do.”