How Ms. Sage Chanell Learned To Shake Her Shells

We are sitting in camping chairs on a Mvskoke Creek stomp ground somewhere west of Henryetta, Oklahoma; somewhere north of Thlopthlocco and the Golden Pony Casino; somewhere along a Rural Route that devolved into gray-cloudy gravel many miles behind us. Historically, stomp dance grounds are often secret and by invitation only: ever since the first Europeans established dominance over NDNs they have been banning their ceremonies and, often, dancing in general it wasn’t until this past February (2017!) that nearby Henryetta abolished an ordinance banning dancing in public. White American Christians saw the link early on between dancing and their dirty, filthy, sensual, darker-skinned lessers and it was the NDNs they found dancing here first.

~~~

from “American Sunrise” by Mvskoke Creek poet Joy Harjo
Sin was invented by the Christians, as was the Devil, we sang. We
were the heathens, but needed to be saved from them thin
chance. We knew we were all related in this story, a little gin will clarify the dark and make us all feel like dancing.

Here: grass, a dirt clearing, makeshift wooden bowers, and short blackjack oak for as far as the eye can see. Sage came to these stomp grounds to spend her 31st birthday weekend; for Sage, attending a stomp dance is a little like going to church for your birthday: a lot like coming home: “You know I could be drinking at the bars this weekend but I decided I don’t want to do that. I want to be here shaking my shells with my people. These are my people. This is my place.” Stomp grounds are ceremonial, but this is not white people Episcopal church ceremonial: this is noise and dance and song and food ceremonial: all night long and well past sunrise ceremonial. The chief of these particular stomp grounds decided Sage could dance as a woman even though, by his reckoning, Sage was born a man. How did she get here? Dancing: elsewhere: Sage:

“Well, when I started drag I was 21, 22, and being both trans and doing drag was not the thing at the time. Oklahoma makes a big stink of it but you go to the East Coast, the West Coast, you can be the ugliest queen but if you have an entertaining personality, you’re in the game. When I started I call it clown makeup I didn’t want all that clown makeup on. So when I first started drag, the only thing I had on was eyeliner, lip gloss, and bronzer. I didn’t even wear a wig I just pulled my hair up, I had a big bump, I had this pony tail on and I had some clothes I had from the mall. It was an open competition, so people who brought their crowd, or if you were just a crowd favorite, you won. You won a hundred dollars. I did ‘Just Fine’ by Mary J. Blige: I came out and I got tipped SO much, I remember I was laughing and I threw the $1s up in the air ’cause there were too many to hold and the crowd: went crazy. I was in this competition with all these queens well-polished, big old eyelashes, expensive makeup and after I won there was this hateful queen, she was like ‘um, this is not drag. You need to have nails on, lashes, and you need to wear fuckin’ makeup’ and I was like, ‘um, in case you forgot, I beat you. I won the crown. You can keep that advice.’”

When Sage was born, the doctor pulled her out between two tired thighs and pronounced: “he,” and everybody called her “he” for too long: 25 years too long: “he.” Tonight, Sage is sitting before us in all her woman things: all her tribal things. Look: a dozen re-purposed evaporated milk cans filled with river stone are tied to each of her legs just below a handmade skirt; above, Sage wears a simple black top, her fingers waving as she talks. Feminine fingers and strong, muscular, feminine shoulders: shoulders which roar: “she.”

When Sage was four, her Daddy died in car wreck and so it was that she and her brothers came to live with their grandfather, the chief of the Little Axe stomp grounds (the north grounds, north of Dirty Bird) and their grandmother, the chief’s wife. Mama was in and out of the picture and, by age 14, Sage was helping support the family by working at fast food restaurants: with three younger brothers so young the oldest was not even 10, Sage felt the weight of her three younger brothers on her shoulders: strong shoulders: fuck you shoulders: I can do this shoulders.

Grandmother: Sage remembers: all those attendant duties: all those glories: “I have all these old pictures of her grandma was always done up, and when she would shake shells for my grandpa it was the grandest time. She would fix herself up and she would wear silk blouses and a pretty dress and she would just shake her heart out and I always thought she was the grandest person. To go back in time and see that again: I wish I could.”

Grandma knew. Grandpa knew. Mom, aunt, cousins: everyone knew. When Sage was little she and her cousin would play dress up and Sage was always the girl and her cousin, Keyah, the boy: the same cousin who, a few years ago, married her wife with Sage as maid of honor. Relatives: aunts, cousins would yell at Sage, their voices thick with contempt: “Boy, that is no way to act. Man. Up.” But grandma knew. At the stomp dances for the Bean Dance, the Friendship Dance, the War Dance the men and women had their roles: the men called their calls and the women shook their shells. Where would dress-up Sage fit? Grandma didn’t ask: said, “honey, you can stay back and cook with me.” Sage stayed in the kitchen cooking with grandma. Boys don’t often cook at the stomp dance but grandma’s husband was the stomp ground chief and nobody said a word when grandma let little Sage cook along with the women. It’s Sage’s role at her family stomp grounds still: to be “head lady cook” to take care, to prepare – in between space: already-negotiated space: Sage’s space, blessed by grandma. Blessed, maybe, by grandpa:

“When we would practice stomp dance, I didn’t want to lead, and my cousins would, and Grandpa would let me shake the women’s cans in my hand, so I would be shaking the footwork but doing it in my hands: you really can’t keep time with your hands like you can when you shake cans on your legs but I knew what I was doing. Grandpa let me do that, and when they wanted me to lead with the boys, well, I could never retain the songs I knew the songs, but when it came time to actually try to sing I couldn’t remember them, it would just leave my memory, and I told my grandpa, I was like ‘when I get out there with the boys, I can’t remember the songs,’ and he was like ‘well, maybe they’re not meant for you to remember.’”

Grandma found a space for Sage in the kitchen. Grandpa told her: maybe the men’s songs weren’t for her to remember: here, here are the women’s shells: you want to shake? hold them in your hands: shake.

 

A stomp dance is an all-night thing. A stomp dance is an improvisation thing: a procession: a church service: a parade. There are the stick men and there is the leader calling out the calls; there are the men calling in response and there is the sacred fire and there are the women: shaking shells. Listen! Look! one of the stick men picture him in a white cowboy hat, holding a stick topped by a white ball: conductor, circus tamer a stick man will choose a warrior to lead the dance. The warrior will shuffle up to the sacred fire surrounded by a broad circle of sand and he will begin to circle, alone, shuffling slowly; slowly, other warriors will approach and begin to take their place: silently, behind him: single file, their single file spiraling out from the fire: an inner circle bounded by two, three, four circles deep of men circling, shuffling, silently pacing around the sacred fire.

The women with their shells begin to approach the gentle, the quiet procession and take their places: between the men: two by two: man, woman, man, woman, man, woman and, suddenly, the leader calls his first call: maybe it sounds like: “oh hey ya hee oh hey” and the men answer with their voices, maybe like “hee” and the women begin to lift their legs a little higher as they shuffle their feet and shake their shells. “Shells” once upon a time: small turtle shells and now, usually, tin filled with stone and tied around the lower half of their legs: shaking: ch-chiiih, ch-chiiih, ch-chiiih. A stomp dance is a procession around the sacred fire: the leader is calling out into the night sky and the men are calling their response and the women with their shells are setting the tempo against the vox humana: ch-chiiih, ch-chiiih, ch-chiiih.

Like any gospel song at any spirit-filled church the pace is set by Spirit, and Spirit alone: two spirits: man and woman spirit: two spirits which, in concert, become Spirit. A stomp dance is all night long; an individual dance, five minutes or twenty. An individual dance can mourn lost warriors or it can merrily, cockily sing about cock: what does cock do in the world? cock finds its place. A stomp dance is a holy place: at the Tvlahasse Green Corn stomp dance danced in early July when the first green corn has borne its first silky strands the dancers haven’t tasted corn all year; alcohol has not passed their lips for four days previous and won’t for four days following. A stomp dance is a holy thing a stomp dance is a joyful thing: songs lifting up the hunt, the battle, the dead, the future, the place of a man and the place of a woman: call, and response: shells shaking, shaking, shaking: ch-chiiih, ch-chiiih, ch-chiiih. Man, woman; man, woman; man, woman: call and response, shells. As Sage transitioned, where would she a former warrior fit?

During their 24 hour fast the warriors will “take medicine,” receive “scratching,” and perform the Feather Dance

 

~~~

Before there was prairie there were hills and before the hills, great and terrible mountains: their teeth still lie in the ditch. Before there was “Oklahoma” we were dancing the men calling their calls and the women shaking their shells and the sacred fire was like unto a great thumb tack pinning the stomp grounds to the universe at large. All these things are true: all, and none. The terrible mountains are so long dead that, unlike their shorter, Rocky cousins, they never had any names. When “Oklahoma” was designated America’s first and final Final Solution, the land was given a Choctaw name: “Okla” “people;” “humma” “red;” but even that name was a lie: neither were those bodies “red” nor were they “people” granted possession of the great cock of manhood: the “all men” of the Declaration, the “mankind” of the fabled Constitution which enfranchised the cock and property-owning, straight white Christian cock alone. How many tears must a non-red, non-people swallow before they will call them a man? Too many.

But lo: look to the skies: a promise: “BRAUM’S BBQ BACON CHZBURGER COMBO 6.49.” Storm clouds breaking up and the sacred fire of the great sun’s glory pouring down: the inheritors of this red state are marching: it is the 2017 Oklahoma City Pride Parade and the NDNs are the first float in the great assembly. Breaching the top of the hill on 39th Street and parading down toward Pennsylvania Avenue, the roar of the great crowd could drown out thunder, and: it has. The spirits of the great American gods Nun’Yunu’Wi, Andrew Jackson, Donald Trump who regularly stalk these selfsame streets are in this moment exorcised: that tired, old man, cocksure pride: gone: just a dream nobody here ever had.

Sage Chanell, Ms. Two Spirit International, waves her queenly wave from atop the float and the queer people of this nation’s First Nations Caddo, Kickapoo, Comanche, Ponca, the Muskoke Creek, the Wichita, Osage, and Sage’s tribe, the Absentee Shawnee carry homemade banners drawn with rainbows and hearts: “Love Wins.” “NOH8.”

Out here, in this queer space, this proud Pride space, “Oklahoma” is a name our spirits are still dreaming up: my spirit, and your spirit, too hers and his and theirs and Mx’s, too out here, in this parade, we are all of us Two Spirits, all of us issued the great vag of womanhood and the great cock of manhood and the even Greater Spirits in between who don’t need “bathroom” parts to dream: where we are just spirit: Just Spirits: spirits inviting the stars to smile down on this our holy project. All her life, Sage Chanell has been dancing: asking the stars to bless her path: this is the story of an Oklahoma girl who received that blessing, and then some.

~~~

 

from “American Sunrise” by Mvskoke Creek and Okie poet Joy Harjo:

We were running out of breath, as we ran out to meet ourselves. We
were surfacing the edge of our ancestors’ fights, and ready to strike.
It was difficult to lose days in the Indian bar if you were straight.
Easy if you played pool and drank to remember to forget. We
made plans to be professional and did. And some of us could sing
so we drummed a fire-lit pathway up to those starry stars.

~~~

When Sage won her Ms. Two Spirit International crown, she argued long and often with the former queen about access: Sage, unlike her predecessor, wasn’t satisfied with Two Spirit participation in powwows: Sage wanted the hardest prize for a transgender Native American: to dance at stomp grounds as a woman. Because powwows are public performances, they are often more open to change; stomp dances, however, are held on sacred ground on private land – addresses rarely shared by anything but word of mouth. Sage wanted to dance in stomp dances, where memories of tradition are longest and where the past rarely if ever accommodates the present. That philosophical debate, however, was not the only drama at last year’s Ms. Two Spirit International pageant: what happened in Sage’s contemporary dance was worthy of Drag Race:

Sage: “When it came to my contemporary, I hadn’t really talked about transitioning with everyone so I chose the song “I Am Changing” from Dreamgirls and I was trying to go through it and the rule book on the music was, we had to have a brand new CD, couldn’t have no scratches or anything, and when I did sound check the night before I had no scratches, it played all the way through it was a brand new CD. Well the host, I didn’t know, was best friends with contestant number one and they were staying in the same room. She was like ‘I’m not gonna let it get any scratches, I’m gonna have your music, don’t worry about it,’ – well, come time to do my time and I got halfway through and the CD stopped. And I’m all getting into my drag, I had what I call my big ol’ Oprah hair, big ol’ teased hair on, I’ve got a gold gown on, and I was just gettin’ into it and- the CD just stopped. So I march over to the DJ and we pulled the CD out and it was scratched, it looked like someone took a key and was like ‘sksksks’ and I was like are you fucking kidding me? I wiped it off and we started all over and it played 5 seconds and it stopped. I got so frustrated that I threw my hands up and I walked off. And so, I was like: I just lost the fucking pageant.”

She didn’t, however, lose the fucking pageant: maybe it was the traditional Shawnee dress her aunt made her for the powwow category; maybe it was her Bean Dance when she opened up the floor to audience participation: no matter: Sage Chanell, as seems to happen often, won her fight even if the former queen refused to stop wearing the crown the rest of the following summer. Sage just made her own crown: bigger: taller: more beads.

~~~

Close your eyes. You are dancing. Stomp dancing. Your elbows are bent and your forearms, out: your feet dancing on firm sand as if you are jogging around a great and silent sea. If you are near the end of the great spiral of dancers streaming out from the great fire, you are almost walking: like cars in traffic: slow lurch. The closer your body is to the fire maybe you are in the second circle, or the third, spiraling out your hips are beginning to rock: a hop in your steps to the rhythm of the call and the sound of the response: and, slowly, to the jig of the shells tied to your womanly legs a towel lining each leg and then 10, maybe 12 cans filled with river stone and tightly laced around the bottom half of each muscled leg: heavy!: soft: the leader is calling, faster: insistent: your pace quickens. At some point, in some stomps, the shells become like so many cicadas buzzing in the dark Southern night: an orchestral drone: a constellation of tambourines surrounding you until you are lifted up: close your eyes part way: see the flicker of the fire to your left as you dance: see the shoulders of the person in front of you: see the stars shining overhead: stars: shells: same: singing you know the line: “when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” you, too, are a star: a son, a daughter, of the Creator: your voice, echoing: call: response: your shells: shaking: ch-chiiih.

~~~

In Oklahoma, where more tribes were relocated than any other state, most tribes are getting smaller; many stomp grounds, disappearing. Although tribal traditions differ, many Oklahoma tribes welcome other NDNs in their rituals and Sage, who is Absentee Shawnee from the Big Jim band has now shaken shells at both Mvskoke Creek and Cherokee stomp grounds. But: she first shook shells in a private Two Spirit gathering an hour north of Tulsa:

 

Sage: “In 2013 or ’14 I finally went to Osage Hills. I was living in Tulsa, I had a different boyfriend at the time, he was totally into it by then, I was a pageant queen I was trans and Cory was like, ‘you’re living in Tulsa now, and Osage Hills is just an hour north of you. You need to get some shells and bring your bag.’ At that time, I had tried on shells before, I just never shook them out in public. A girl from another ground brought me some of her cans and so I went and, as soon as I got there, they were already doing their dance, the Friendship Dance, so I had no time to get ready I just threw my shells on and I got out there.

At that particular Two Spirit gathering a queer stomp dance in Osage County in August Sage was asked to give her testimony and she did, knees knocking: testimony: her short time living as a woman in Tulsa: her lifelong wish to shake shells: her thanks for her sister, Cory Taber, who’d encouraged her all along the way. Afterward, people came up to tell her personally: “Hey, we got your back: whenever you want to come back and be a part of this, we want you.”

Sage: “It must be four years now that I’ve been shaking shells ever since Osage Hills. Before that, I’d just stopped dancing. I’d told my ground: in order to go into my current stage now as a woman, well, see, we have a stickman who before every dance he goes out and picks the leader and at the time I stopped dancing, my cousin was the stickman and he said ‘Will you please come lead?’ And I said, ‘Brother, for me to be respected as I am now, well: I know I was raised not to say no to a stick man, and it hurts me to say it now, but for me move on to my next stage, I’m gonna have to say no from now on. I’m sorry. I apologize, but I won’t be leading no more.’ And that was hard to say, but they haven’t asked me no more. I told them, ‘I do all the women’s stuff already, I take care of the cans, I get to go shake shells at other grounds, and from here on out, I can’t lead as a man: no more.”

Though Sage has been shaking shells as a woman for four years now with the Cherokee, the Mvskoke, and at Two Spirit gatherings she still hasn’t shaken shells at her hometown stomp grounds in Little Axe:

“I think I have to initiate the conversation. I think they’re waiting on me. I actually asked for Ayokha’s permission at my ground and they let her. The War Dance chief is my grandma’s little brother and I’d never had a serious sit down with him, but, for Ayokha, I did, and I think he thought I was going to ask for me when I said ‘well, I have this friend-’ because he just stopped me. He said: ‘I just want to tell you, it don’t matter how you live your life. If you’re gonna live as a woman, live as a woman. If you’re gonna be a man, be a man. If your friend lives as a woman, then she can come dance as a woman.’ I got off the phone and I cried. He was saying that to me. But still: I haven’t asked for myself.”

~~~

 

from “Mother Field,” Joy Harjo –
Everyone had a name that could not be spoken.
Every given name harbored an origin story.
There was no doubt as to the root of the matter.
Spook got his name on the street,
Nez from an ancestor as tall as male rain,
And mine was from a grandfather who fought without thought
To return us back rightfully to our beloved homelands.

 

~~~

“Two Spirit” is a not an orientation: not L or G, not T or i, not bi; “two spirit” is a role: two spirit is where you fit. Masculine men and masculine women; feminine men and feminine women: in many early North American societies these four genders determined how a person dressed and how they served the tribe. When Europeans encountered them, they zeroed in on “feminine” males: the French called them “berdache,” a term they’d taken from the Persians “barda (برده) sometimes designating a male slave or captive forced to submit to sex with men. “Berdache” among early French trappers became a kind of coinage: here is a man you can use for sex a colonial-era “Pocahontas” too risqué to mention.

What colonists called “homosexual” relationships among tribes were usually a traditionally-dressed man or woman whose partner wore the opposite gender’s clothing: but: as long as the couple represented two genders in dress and behavior, they were seen by the tribe as heteronormative. It was often only when a two spirit person stood alone as a medicine man, a midwife, as a pre-modern RuPaul that they were treated by the tribe as a thing apart; since 1990, indigenous people set apart often use “two spirit” to identify themselves.

A majority of NDNs today, like a majority of Americans, describe themselves as Christian. Many NDN Christians even describe themselves as evangelical: my grandfather, who otherwise shirked his Cherokee traditions, spent his last church service wheelchair bound in an evangelical Native American church south of Tulsa. Historical narratives suggest most “LGBT” tribal members simply lived inconspicuously with a same-sex partner; those who didn’t were often revered and held to have special powers; then, with white European Christianity, came condemnation. For Christian priests and pastors, the man apart was “homosexual;” “perversion;” for the flock, a word as satisfying in the mouth as the “fire” used to burn them: “faggot.”

Whatever the past, identity among two spirit NDNs is still a negotiation: Tim, a Kiowa man who rode the Two Spirit float in the OKC Pride parade, told me: “I’m white.” Adopted by white parents at a young age, when he came out of the closet they happily accepted him: so far, so good. When, later, he found his Kiowa birth mother and she learned he was gay, she said she wished he’d never found her. Thus: “I’m white.”

Sage’s Shawnee mother has been slow on the uptake as well: Sage: “She claims to everybody else that she accepts me but, well, sometimes I feel like she don’t show it to me. To everybody else she’s like ‘Oh, that’s my baby, I love her’ but with me sometimes she still tries to call me my boy name. Last year I took her out to the other ground and she kept calling me by my boy name and I was like: ‘If you call me that one more time-’ and she hit me and then she called me that name again. She said: ‘You’re always gonna be my baby,’ and I was like: ‘I’ve accepted everything you’ve done in your life, least you can do is just call me by the right name.’

For the most part, even though Sage spends much of her time in rural Oklahoma, few people have messed with her: “I’m a tall gal; no one really says much to my face. I’m sure they have when I’m not around.” Sage was harassed by her employer at a casino in Osage County the female supervisor watched Sage enter the women’s restroom and later grilled her about whether or not she had a penis but there’s no recourse for harassment of transgender individuals in Oklahoma. The employer’s solution at that casino was for Sage to use the unisex bathroom; eventually, Sage was fired. Since then, she’s worked for casinos owned by her own Shawnee tribe as a woman, as “Sage” with no trouble.

Five years ago, partly due to Sage and her trans sister Cory Taber’s work founding the Oklahoma City Two Spirit Society, the local Pride commission decided to let the Two Spirit float ride at the head of the parade, in perpetuity; further, unlike all other floats, the entry fee will always be waived. Because Sage was the reigning Ms. International Two Spirit “international,” in this case, means indigenous people of Canada and the U.S. Sage rode inside the truck pulling the Two Spirit float this year.

Although it’s rare to find an Oklahoman who doesn’t claim a distant NDN ancestor, the official native population hovers just below ten percent slightly smaller than the Hispanic community, slightly larger than the African-American community. But: even among non-native people, “two spirit” identification is growing: especially in academia, some are proposing a sort of pan two spiritedness, the idea that “two spirit” better represents what it means to be queer than the ever-growing letters in LGBTQia+.

Under the current nomenclature, Sage falls under “t” as a “transgender female.” But: is she gay? Straight? In high school, she dated a girl and, after high school, a boy, but says the girl was more about companionship than desire. Since high school she’s only dated men and, lately, only straight men: “The thing is, I’m not really attracted to gay men. I’m not attracted to feminine energy at all. Some women get upset when I say I’m dating a straight man ‘they’re not straight if they’re dating you’ but that’s what’s coming for me. I’m like, your husbands, your boyfriends, that’s what’s coming for me, honey. They don’t want to date a guy, it’s someone like me that they’re attracted to so, it is what it is.”

Sage Chanell: Ms. Two Spirit International 2017: dates who she wants. Is who she is.

Photography: R. Potts
Illustrations: Damien Cuyper

Read Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Speech Apologizing to Canada’s LGBTQ Community: ‘We Betrayed You’

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formally apologized to LGBTQ people targeted by the federal government in a Tuesday address delivered to the House of Commons.

The 45-year-old offered condolences to those reprimanded, denied promotion, fired, and even imprisoned during a decades-long purge of the armed forces and public service professions. The campaign, which lasted from the 1950s all the way until the ’90s, resulted in many victims of the sting operation taking their own lives.

“This is the devastating story of people who were branded criminals by the governmentpeople who lost their livelihoods, and in some cases, their lives,” Trudeau said in a heartfelt address, one that INTO previously reported would take place. “These aren’t distant practices of governments long forgotten. This happened systematically, in Canada, with a timeline more recent than any of us would like to admit.”

“To the victims of the purge, who were surveilled, interrogated, and abused; who were forced to turn on their friends and colleagues; who lost wages, lost health, and lost loved ones; we betrayed you,” he added. “And we are so sorry.”

The speech was delivered concurrently with a settlement in a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of those harmed in the anti-LGBTQ purge. The Trudeau administration is expected to pay out more than $100 million in reparations, as well as introducing legislation Tuesday that would allow victims to apply to have their records expunged.

The payout follows similar moves in other Western nations to make amends for their countries’ anti-gay past.

Germany announced in October 2016 that it would expunge the records of 50,000 men who were imprisoned under Paragraph 175 of the criminal code, which outlawed sodomy. It also offered 30 million Euros in compensation for harm caused by its anti-LGBTQ laws. U.K. issued a similar pardon in January for gay men jailed under the country’s now-defunct laws criminalizing homosexuality.

The Prime Minister affirmed that his office would continue to stand for LGBTQ rights, as well as righting the wrongs of previous administrations.

“We’re Canadians, and we want the very best for each other, regardless of our sexual orientation, or our gender identity and expression,” he said. “We will support one another in our fight for equality. And Canada will stand tall on the international stage as we proudly advocate for equal rights for LGBTQ communities around the world.”

Read Trudeau’s full speech below:

One of the greatest choices a person can make in their life is the choice to serve their fellow citizens. Maybe it’s in government, in the military, or in a police force. In whatever capacity one serves, dedicating your life to making Canadaand indeed, the worlda better place is a calling of the highest order.

Now imagine, if you will, being told that the very country you would willingly lay down your life to defend doesn’t want you. Doesn’t accept you. Sees you as defective. Sees you as a threat to our national security. Not because you can’t do the job, or because you lack patriotism or courageno, because of who you are as a person, and because of who your sexual partners are.

Now imagine, Mr. Speaker, being subjected to laws, policies, and hiring practices that label you as differentas “less than.” Imagine having to fight for the basic rights that your peers enjoy, over and over again. And imagine being criminalized for being who you are.

This is the truth for many of the Canadians present in the gallery today and those listening across the country. This is the devastating story of people who were branded criminals by the government. People who lost their livelihoods, and in some cases, their lives. These aren’t distant practices of governments long forgotten. This happened systematically, in Canada, with a timeline more recent than any of us would like to admit.

Mr. Speaker, today we acknowledge an often-overlooked part of Canada’s history. Today we finally talk about Canada’s role in the systemic oppression, criminalization, and violence against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and two-spirit communities. And it is my hope that in talking about these injustices, vowing to never repeat them, and acting to right these wrongs, we can begin to heal.

Discrimination against LGBTQ communities was quickly codified in criminal offenses like “buggery,” “gross indecency” and bawdy house provisions. Bathhouses were raided, people were entrapped by police.

Our laws bolstered and emboldened those who wanted to attack non-conforming sexual desire.

Our laws made private and consensual sex between same-sex partners a criminal offense, leading to the unjust arrest, conviction, and imprisonment of Canadians. This criminalization would have lasting impacts for things like employment, volunteering, and travel.

Those arrested and charged were purposefully and vindictively shamed. Their names appeared in newspapers in order to humiliate them, and their families. Lives were destroyed. And tragically, lives were lost.

Over our history, laws and policies enacted by the government led to the legitimization of much more than inequalitythey legitimized hatred and violence, and brought shame to those targeted. While we may view modern Canada as a forward-thinking, progressive nation, we can’t forget our past: The state orchestrated a culture of stigma and fear around LGBTQ communities. And in doing so, destroyed people’s lives.

Mr. Speaker, a purge that lasted decades will forever remain a tragic act of discrimination suffered by Canadian citizens at the hands of their own government.

From the 1950s to the early 1990s, the government of Canada exercised its authority in a cruel and unjust manner, undertaking a campaign of oppression against members, and suspected members, of the LGBTQ communities. The goal was to identify these workers throughout the public service, including the foreign service, the military, and the RCMP, and persecute them.

You see, the thinking of the day was that all non-heterosexual Canadians would automatically be at an increased risk of blackmail by our adversaries due to what was called “character weakness.” This thinking was prejudiced and flawed. And sadly, what resulted was nothing short of a witch-hunt.

The public service, the military, and the RCMP spied on their own people, inside and outside of the workplaces. Canadians were monitored for anything that could be construed as homosexual behavior, with community groups, bars, parks, and even people’s homes constantly under watch.

During this time, the federal government even dedicated funding to an absurd device known as the “Fruit Machine,” a failed technology that was supposed to measure homosexual attraction.

When the government felt that enough evidence had accumulated, some suspects were taken to secret locations in the dark of night to be interrogated. They were asked invasive questions about their relationships and sexual preferences. Hooked up to polygraph machines, these law-abiding public servants had the most intimate details of their lives cut open.

Women and men were abused by their superiors, and asked demeaning, probing questions about their sex lives. Some were sexually assaulted.

Those who admitted they were gay were fired, discharged, or intimidated into resignation. They lost dignity, lost careers, and had their dreamsand indeed, their livesshattered. Under the harsh glare of the spotlight, people were forced to make an impossible choice between career and identity.

The very thing Canadian officials fearedblackmail of LGBTQ employeeswas happening. But it wasn’t at the hands of our adversaries; it was at the hands of our own government.

Mr. Speaker, the number one job of any government is to keep its citizens safe. And on this, we have failed LGBTQ people, time and time again. It is with shame and sorrow and deep regret for the things we have done that I stand here today and say: We were wrong. We apologize. I am sorry. We are sorry.

For state-sponsored, systemic oppression and rejection, we are sorry. For suppressing two-spirit Indigenous values and beliefs, we are sorry. For abusing the power of the law, and making criminals of citizens, we are sorry.

To all the LGBTQ people across this country who we have harmed in countless ways, we are sorry. To those who were left broken by a prejudiced system; and to those who took their own liveswe failed you.

For stripping you of your dignity; for robbing you of your potential; for treating you like you were dangerous, indecent, and flawed; we are sorry.

To the victims of the purge, who were surveilled, interrogated, and abused; who were forced to turn on their friends and colleagues; who lost wages, lost health, and lost loved ones; we betrayed you. And we are so sorry.

To those who were fired, to those who resigned, and to those who stayed at a great personal and professional cost; to those who wanted to serve, but never got the chance to because of who you areyou should have been permitted to serve your country, and you were stripped of that option. We are sorry. We were wrong.

Indeed, all Canadians missed out on the important contributions you could have made to our society.

You were not bad soldiers, sailors, airmen and women. You were not predators. And you were not criminals. You served your country with integrity, and veterans you are. You are professionals. You are patriots. And above all, you are innocent. And for all your suffering, you deserve justice, and you deserve peace.

It is our collective shame that you were so mistreated. And it is our collective shame that this apology took so longmany who suffered are no longer alive to hear these words. And for that, we are truly sorry. To the loved ones of those who suffered; to the partners, families, and friends of the people we harmed; for upending your lives and for causing you such irreparable pain and griefwe are sorry.

We also thank members of the We Demand an Apology Network, our LGBTQ Apology Advisory Council, and the Just Society Committee for Egale, as well as the individuals who have long advocated for this overdue apology.

We must remember, and we will remember. We will honor and memorialize the legacy of those who fought before us in the face of unbearable hatred and danger.

Mr. Speaker, it is my hope that we will look back on today as a turning point. But there is still much work to do. Discrimination against LGBTQ communities is not a moment in time but an ongoing, centuries-old campaign.

We want to be a partner and ally to LGBTQ Canadians in the years going forward. There are still real struggles facing these communitiesincluding for those who are intersex, queer people of color, and others who suffer from intersectional discrimination.

Transgender Canadians are subjected to discrimination, violence, and aggression at alarming rates. In fact, trans people didn’t even have explicit protection under federal human rights legislation until this year.

And, Mr. Speaker, I am proud to say that earlier today in this House we tabled the Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions Act. This will mean that Canadians previously convicted of consensual sexual activity with same-sex partners will have their criminal records permanently destroyed.

Further, I am pleased to announce that over the course of the weekend, we reached an agreement in principle with those involved in the class action lawsuit for actions related to “the purge.” Never again will our government be the source of so much pain for members of the LGBTQ communities.

We promise to consult and work with individuals and communities to right these wrongs and begin to rebuild trust. We will ensure that there are systems in place so that these kinds of hateful practices are a thing of the past. Discrimination and oppression of LGBTQ Canadians will not be tolerated anymore.

Mr. Speaker, Canada’s history is far from perfect. But we believe in acknowledging and righting past wrongs so that we can learn from them. For all our differences, for all our diversity, we can find love and support in our common humanity. We’re Canadians, and we want the very best for each other, regardless of our sexual orientation, or our gender identity and expression. We will support one another in our fight for equality.

And Canada will stand tall on the international stage as we proudly advocate for equal rights for LGBTQ communities around the world.

To the kids who are listening at home and who fear rejection because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity and expression; and to those who are nervous and scared, but also excited at what their future might hold; we are all worthy of love, and deserving of respect. And whether you discover your truth at six or 16 or 60, who you are is valid.

To members of the LGBTQ communities, young and old, here in Canada and around the world:

You are loved. And we support you.

To the trailblazers who have lived and struggled, and to those who have fought so hard to get us to this place: thank you for your courage, and thank you for lending your voices. I hope you look back on all you have done with pride. It is because of your courage that we’re here today, together, and reminding ourselves that we can, and must, do better.

For the oppression of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and two-spirit communities, we apologize. On behalf of the government, Parliament, and the people of Canada: We were wrong. We are sorry. And we will never let this happen again.

photos via Getty

Accused Pedophile Roy Moore Responds to Sexual Misconduct Claims With Yet Another Transphobic Meltdown

Roy Moore returned to his age-old shtick on Monday night: When all else fails, attack the LGBTQ community.

The embattled Senate hopeful claimed during a rambling speech that the numerous sexual misconduct allegations against him are intended distract from his campaign’s core message. He told supporters that stories published in The Washington Post and The New York Times about Moore soliciting underage women for sex are “false attacks.”

“They want to hide the true issues of immigration and health care, military readiness, taxes, abortion, and transgender rights,” Moore said at a rally in the small mountain town of Henagar in northeast Alabama. “They also not only want to hide the issues, they don’t want my opponent’s issues revealed; how he stands on these issues. I’ll tell you how he stands: completely contrary to the people of this state and this country.”

Moore is currently waged in a tight battle for Jeff Sessions’ vacated seat in the U.S. Congress. The 70-year-old leads challenger Doug Jones, a Democrat, by just one percentage point in a special election set to be held Dec. 12. He had been trailing in the last 10 days of polling, despite running in one of the nation’s most conservative states.

The former Alabama Supreme Court Justice, who was ousted after attempting to block same-sex marriages in the state two years ago, hit at Jones’ support for LGBTQ rights in yesterday’s address. Jones, a former prosecutor, called President Trump’s July tweets announcing his intention to ban open trans military service “wrong.”

“I know how to strengthen the military, and it isn’t by putting transgender troops and opposing President Trump’s ban on transgender troops in the military,” Moore told the crowd. “I oppose transgender rights. There is no right to believe you’re a person of the opposite sex or opposite gender.”

“When you start preserving rights like thatthat you can be who you want,” he continued. There’s a new word called fluid transgenderism. That means you can go back and forth. There’s a big difference.”

Moore is one of America’s most extreme anti-LGBTQ figures, infamously comparing same-sex marriage to slavery and blaming queer people for the Sept. 11 attacks. The former district attorney, who has now been accused of sexual impropriety by five women, has called for the criminalization of homosexuality. He has also claimed he isn’t sure if LGBTQ people should face the death penalty.

When the Post story first broke three weeks ago, Moore claimed in a news conference that “transgenders [sic] don’t have rights.” In a typically unhinged address, he went onto claim that his Democratic challenger “believes in transgender bathrooms and transgenders in the military.”

Although Moore claimed the well-sourced reports is nothing but a diversion cooked up by the media, its his campaign that has a great deal to distract from at the moment.

In addition to the five women who claim Moore used his position to proposition them for sex in the 1970s, reports indicate that local police in Gadsden, Ala. knew enough of his reputation to keep him away from shopping malls and high school cheerleaders. Conservatives have attempted to dilute these allegations by making false reports of the Post paying off sources and conducting a thwarted sting operation targeting the D.C. paper.

A staffer with Moore’s campaign physically accosted a reporter with The Birmingham News at Monday’s event.