Valbella Gourmet Foods’ self-immolating email got us thinking about corporate cultures and their historical impacts on the LGBTQ2 community. In the short-term, flammable corporate moments—like Valbella’s—lead to concerted damage control and reputation management. On the other hand, the Canmore Pride society, the scorched recipient of the email, has felt an outspoken (but perhaps transitory) lift in community support.
Occasionally, corporate homophobia and transphobia can lead to significant organizational change and have positive after-effects.
In this vein, the catalyst for the formation of the Calgary Lesbian and Gay Political Action Guild (CLAGPAG) came out of an act of discrimination. In 1988, the Delta Bow Valley Hotel cancelled a gay community fundraising dinner when they realized the booking was for a gay group. A similar media firestorm ensued: but before the internet, this meant sensational newspaper and television coverage. The apology from Delta corporate headquarters in Toronto included a cash donation. This payoff became seed money for CLAGPAG, who later started Calgary’s annual Pride Parade and did critical social justice work in our city.
At Imperial Oil, a gay chemical engineer named David Mitges, who had been working for the company since 1980, started attending his company’s annual shareholders’ meeting in 1993. For eight sequential years, he asked Imperial to offer same-sex benefits, despite the booing and harassment from the audience present. The national press described Mitges’ protracted tussle as “David vs. the Energy Goliath.” Finally, in 2000, Imperial capitulated and began offering same-sex benefits, which by that time had become more normative in corporate culture.
For historians, it will be useful to revisit Valbella Gourmet Foods and the Canmore Pride Society in 2032 to record what happened in the intervening decade.