Category Archives: Gay history

Awards & Bad Blood

Our Past Matters: Stories of Gay Calgary was selected as a finalist for the Next Generation Indie Book Awards in the category of regional non-fiction. We must give a massive shout out to Calgary Gay History Project supporter, Lolly de Jonge, who encouraged us to enter. The award ceremony this year is being held virtually on June 26th at 6 PM on Facebook Live. Thank you, Lolly, we feel grateful for the honour!

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Collage from Bad Blood

In January, we were approached to participate in a journalism multimedia project by students from Mount Royal University. They were interested in exploring the history of Canada’s blood donation ban from men who have sex with men. The creative team consisted of Nathan Woolridge, Karina Zapata, and Riggs Zyrille Vergara. They recently published an interactive website titled: Bad Blood. It takes a deep dive into the history of the tainted blood scandal, the current legal context for gay donors, and the champions who are trying to progress the country forward. It is well worth a read. Congratulations, Nathan, Karina, and Riggs!

{KA}

The Apple Tree – our first fiction!

Gordon Sombrowski is an acclaimed short-story writer. He is also the significant other of Kevin Allen, the Research Lead of the Calgary Gay History Project. Gordon recently wrote a narrative piece about the current pandemic, called The Apple Tree, that reflects on Calgary’s AIDS history. Just as AIDS had a powerful effect on gay male sexual behaviour, he muses that Covid-19 might change us as well – he says: “all pandemics leave scars.”

Apple Tree

Here is an excerpt from The Apple Tree:

Georgie looks out the window and plans his day. His Covid day. That is what he calls each day, Covid day one, Covid day two, now it is Covid day fifty-three. Every day so much like the next: breakfast, lunch, dinner, a walk down to the river, a walk around in the town park, a walk along the empty streets. All of it alone. Everyday Georgie is alone, but for the one day a week he drives to the grocery store, early when no one is there, he buys his groceries, his mask in place. But Georgie is not really alone. He has the internet.

Tom is the best of his many acquaintances, and he spends time online with them and Tom and with a bunch of the gang at work. He has organized to have a drink or dinner with Tom once or twice a week, and he always has drinks with his colleagues on Fridays, otherwise casual drinks or coffee with his other acquaintances all mediated by the computer screen.

Georgie has become an expert at internet socializing. He has discovered that he likes internet socializing, it is safe, and fills his need for company. It has not escaped his notice that this internet socializing, looking at a screen to see an image that is like the person, but is not the person, is a lot like pornography.

Click here for the full short story.

This is the first original fiction we have published on the Calgary Gay History Project’s website; let us know what you think! Happy reading.

{KA}

RISE Redux

{The Calgary Gay History Project is returning to our AIDS history series this week. In that vein, please spare a thought for AIDS activist Larry Kramer, who died of pneumonia yesterday at age 84.}

A highlight of Calgary’s 2019 Pride Festival was the gay history event “RISE.” The audience at the Plaza Theatre was honoured and moved by the passionate recollections of two heroes from the AIDS pandemic, Ruth Coker Burks and Cleve Jones. Afterward, one Calgarian exclaimed: “It was one of the most inspirational evenings I have ever attended.” I was very grateful to have emceed the event, which was manifested by Twisted Element’s Keon Brawn in collaboration with HIV Community Link.

Local videographer Patrick Monaghan was there with his camera and recently edited a video of the evening, which he has now uploaded to YouTube. I encourage you to watch or rewatch RISE; it’s a history lesson that reminds us of our shared humanity in the pressure cooker of this earlier pandemic.

Ruth

Ruth Coker Burks with the Calgary Gay History Project’s Kevin Allen

Ruth Coker Burks is perhaps better known as the Cemetery Angel. Ruth, a former caregiver of AIDS crisis victims, is an AIDS awareness advocate based in Arkansas. During the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic, she used her salary as a real estate agent to care for AIDS patients whose families and communities had forsaken them. Due to prejudice, fear, and stigma surrounding the disease, she was often the patients’ only caregiver until their passing. She is also recognized for burying abandoned bodies in her own family cemetery in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Ruth, Cleve, Kevin

Cleve Jones (centre) sharing his recollections.

Cleve Jones co-founded the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, which grew into one of the largest and most influential People with AIDS advocacy organizations in the United States.

In 1985, Jones then started The Names Project, which resulted in tens of thousands of people making quilt panels to commemorate those they had lost to the disease. Also known as the AIDS Memorial Quilt, thousands of panels at a time toured North America. The Canadian National Tour of the quilt stopped in Calgary in July 1989. The 1000 visiting panels were hung in layered sections in the Calgary municipal building atrium. Fourteen panels created in Calgary were added to the quilt during its pause in the city.

Thank you, Patrick, for documenting RISE and sharing this video!

{KA}