N.L. trans veteran feels unwelcome at Remembrance Day events

Leigh Gilbert served in the Canadian Forces. She came out as a trans woman after leaving the military. (Submitted by Leigh Gilbert - image credit)
Leigh Gilbert served in the Canadian Forces. She came out as a trans woman after leaving the military. (Submitted by Leigh Gilbert - image credit)
Submitted by Leigh Gilbert
Submitted by Leigh Gilbert

A trans woman who served in the Canadian Forces says she won't be marking Remembrance Day at a cenotaph or other public event because she feels unwelcome in her community.

As a soldier for 15 years, Leigh Gilbert of Green's Harbour, on the western Avalon Peninsula, did tours of duty overseas in the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan.

She didn't come out as a trans woman while she was in the military because of how she feared she would be viewed, but even now, in the area where she grew up, she still feels that she's not accepted.

"I deal with daily harassment, abuse and bullying," said Gilbert. "There is no place to feel at home, like a normal veteran."

Gilbert said the harassment usually takes the form of people yelling transphobic statements at her, sometimes while she's out for her daily walks.

"Having served your country and going through so much, and just daily abuse on top of it, it can be really hard sometimes," said Gilbert.

Support from comrades

When she was in the Canadian Forces, Gilbert served as an armoured reconnaissance soldier in the former Yugoslavia and as a tank commander in Afghanistan.

"It was a very masculine, macho job, especially in a combat unit like mine, very conservative, not really into people being different," said Gilbert. "I definitely didn't feel I could keep my career and be myself."

But since coming out as a trans woman, she's been surprised by the kindness and support from the people with whom she served.

"It was mind-blowing to see these very masculine men say, 'Hey, Leigh, as long as you're happy, we are behind you,'" said Gilbert.

Submitted by Leigh Gilbert
Submitted by Leigh Gilbert

Moving on

Gilbert says she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of her time in Afghanistan and is getting counselling to deal with her traumas.

As a soldier, she said, she had to take human life and had comrades in battle die in her arms.

But the the mistreatment and harassment she suffers as she goes about her daily life just adds to her trauma.

"As a trans woman, I've sort of had to move on from that portion of my life and just sort of focus on myself and my own well-being," said Gilbert.

Gilbert said she's making plans to move from Green's Harbour to a larger centre.

Finding a way to mark the day

Remembrance Day and the entire week leading up to it is hard for many veterans, including Gilbert.

On Nov. 11 in past years, she said, she's stayed home alone and drank too much alcohol. This year, with the guidance of her mental health team, she's made a plan to do something more positive, but it still won't involve wearing a uniform and going to a local cenotaph.

Instead, Gilbert said she'll spend a quiet day on the East Coast Trail, hiking and reflecting.

"I'm definitely going to have a couple of moments thinking about a lot of the really amazing men and women who put down their life for Canada," said Gilbert.

"These people were true heroes, and it was an absolute honour to ever have been in their presence," she said.

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