LGBT members of the Canadian Armed Forces, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the Federal Public Service were systemically discriminated against for over four decades – by their own employer, the Canadian Government. This shameful campaign, now known as the LGBT purge, began in the 1950s and lasted until 1992. In the 1950s, homosexuality was a crime in Canada. Homosexuals were thought to suffer from a “character weakness” that made them susceptible to blackmail by Russian spies. This caused a widespread moral panic and a conflation between homosexuals and communist sympathizers. The Canadian Government took action against this perceived threat, and the LGBT purge campaign began under the cover of national security measures. Similar campaigns against LGBT public servants were active in other countries at the time, namely England and the United States – where the campaign was known as the Lavender Scare.
The campaign also involved the development of a homosexuality detection device commonly known as ‘The Fruit Machine’. The word “Fruit” was a derogatory word for gay men at the time. The device was developed by Dr. Frank Robert wake and housed at his lab at Carleton University in Ottawa. Subjects were made to view lewd or suggestive images of men and women and then the device would measure the diameter of their pupils in response to the images. If pupils enlarged at the sight of a same-sex image, homosexuality was thought to be present. The Fruit Machine test also involved a perspiration test, pulse response, and word association tests. Subjects were told it was a test to rate stress. The test was used to not only identify homosexuals so they could be fired from their careers, but as a screening test to ensure homosexuals didn’t gain employment in the first place.
The Fruit Machine film focuses on the first-person survivors of the LGBT purge. Survivors from both the Military and the Civil Service share their personal stories of discrimination. These survivors were targeted in a variety of decades of the purge, and were employed in a variety of positions and departments across Canada. Supporting these survivor stories are key voices of corroboration. These voices represent varying perspectives from a journalist who was embedded with the RCMP during the purge, to well-known and respected LGBT activists, writers, scholars, community leaders, and the lead lawyer who represented class members on the LGBT purge class action lawsuit. The film was developed and produced concurrent to the survivors search for justice and captures key events including the historic national apology by Prime Minister Trudeau to the survivors of the purge in 2017.