Canadian Armed Forces unveils new genderless uniforms in a step toward diversity and inclusion

The Department of National Defence introduces new uniforms in an effort to create a safer workplace

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) is moving outside of the binary with its new uniforms. 

In an effort to make all members feel “safe and protected” and improve diversity and inclusion across the Department of National Defence (DND), personnel will have more autonomy over their appearance. In a memo obtained by the government-focused news outlet Blacklock’s Reporter, the DND will introduce gender-neutral uniforms that members can choose that will “make them the most comfortable.”

The decision comes after a sweeping reform of gender-neutral policies across different branches of Canada’s security organizations. In July 2020, the Canadian Coast Guard introduced uniforms that shift away “from gender identity to size and fit.” And the Royal Canadian Navy, a branch of the CAF, changed its junior rank designation in 2020 to create a more inclusive environment after 75 percent of respondents to a survey of nearly 18,000 personnel indicated that a rank designation change was long overdue.

While it is not clear what they will look like, the DND has said the new uniforms will shift from a binary appearance, and gender-specific accessories like women’s bowler caps will no longer be required.

These changes come as the CAF prioritizes recruiting new, young members and increasing workplace safety. In 2015, an external review was launched to investigate sexual misconduct and harassment in the Armed Forces. The review found an “underlying sexualized culture in the CAF that is hostile to women and LGBTQ members.” 

Last December, DND representatives expressed regret for the military’s history of abuse within its ranks, two years after a 2019 class-action settlement that promised an apology would be publicly made. The case, which had almost 19,000 claims submitted by current and former military personnel, depicted the CAF’s pervasive culture of harm and harassment. 

Findings from the CAF 2021 Survivors Support Consultation Group reveal that LGBTQ2S+ members remain at greater risk of experiencing all forms of sexual misconduct. According to the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre, four out of five SMRC reports in 2021 were from women, even though this group makes up less than a fifth of the CAF’s members.

Gender-based harassment and sexual misconduct are not unique to the CAF. The United States military came under investigation in 2020 after the murder of 20-year-old Vanessa Guillén at Fort Hood in Texas. She was reported missing after telling her family about sexual harassment she was experiencing at the base. Approximately one in three female veterans report sexual trauma while in the U.S. military.


While the CAF uniforms are not a policy change that directly targets harassment, the initiative is intended to help create a safer environment for all members. 

The CAF memo explicitly points out that it will support non-binary soldiers, sailors and aircrew in choosing their own clothing. This adds to the Canadian military’s new policies on welcoming transgender troops, established in 2019.

That year, DND spokesperson Derek Abma told the CBC that the CAF wants to recruit people from underrepresented populations, which include LGBTQ2S+ people.

“The CAF is committed to building a force that is composed of individuals with new perspectives and a broader range of cultural, linguistic, gender, age and other unique attributes, to better understand our increasingly complex world and respond to the challenges it presents.”

Jordan Daniels

Jordan Daniels (he/him) is a Black/Jewish/Queer writer for fashion, liberation, philanthropy, and LGBTQ+ experiences. His work has been published in The San Diego Union-Tribune, Jewish Telegraph Agency, Narratively, Wear Your Voice, eJewish Philanthropy and more. He currently lives in San Diego and speaks English.

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