Thanks everyone who came out to the Gay History Walk last night – what a crowd and great evening! On the walk I heard that Pride Calgary organizers are expecting 35,000 – 40,000 people out for the parade on Sunday. Amazing. So I dug into the vaults and asked colleagues a few questions to determine when was the first Calgary pride parade. I will call it as being 1991, but the demarcation line is a bit fuzzy… Read on.
As I mentioned in a previous post there had been a Calgary march and rally back in 1980. However a Pride Parade in the classic sense, with its homage to Stonewall (being in June), occurred on June 16, 1991, which also happened to be Father’s Day. The city was in a polarized uproar because Mayor Al Duerr, had gone out on a political limb and signed a proclamation declaring June 16-23, 1991 as the first “Gay Rights Week.”
The Mayor’s office fielded hundreds of angry calls condemning the decision. Some Aldermen objected strenuously as well. Alderman John Schmal said, the problem with Duerr’s proclamation was made on behalf of the citizens of Calgary and city council, adding “I don’t support any of that stuff; why don’t we just declare a heterosexual week?” Alderman Ray Clark concurred: “If you want to put our names on this proclamation you’d better ask our permission.” Aldermen Ray Clark and Carol Kraychy took particular offense at the choice of Father’s Day to commence the week.
About 400 people marched down Stephen Avenue ending up at City Hall to listen to a speech by B.C. New Democrat MP Svend Robinson. He told the gathered assembly that the greatest barrier facing gays is their invisibility and silence. “We are here to remind political leaders it is wrong in Alberta that it’s still legal to fire us from jobs, throw us from homes, and deny us goods and services because of who we love,” he exclaimed.
Nancy Miller, one of the rally organizers remembers, “It had been overcast that day and when Svend got up to the mic to speak the clouds parted and a beam of light hit him as he spoke – it was amazing.”
It was not all transcendental however, as two dozen protesters – one with a pit bull – behaved badly, eventually leading to three protester arrests. Christian churches from an assortment of denominations had their own rally as well, drawing 1000 people “to pray for the city,” organizer Bob Gal explained. He added that holding their event on Father’s day was appropriate as Christians had gathered to honour their Father.
Mayor Duerr, facing continued political pressure in the weeks after Pride, eventually renounced his decision, publicly admitted to making a mistake with the proclamation vowing it would never happen again. In 1992, the Gay and Lesbian community proclaimed, “Gay and Lesbian Pride Week” themselves, taking ads out in public newspapers without any mayoral or civic endorsement. And in 1993, Edmonton’s mayor Jan Reimer, proclaimed her city’s first Gay and Lesbian Pride Day, irritating Duerr’s (and Calgary’s) anti-proclamation stance.
Additional notes: Calgary’s first “Pride Week” started as a weekend of workshops in 1988. In 1990, Calgary’s 3rd Annual “Pride Festival” had a political rally that drew 400 at Memorial Park. Consequently the first parade in 1991, was actually part of the 4th Annual Pride Festival.