10 Moments in 10 Years @YYCgayhistory

We’ve returned from a three-month hiatus to celebrate both pride month and ten years since the Calgary Gay History Project was founded. We began as a tiny project for Calgary 2012 and have been growing ever since due to an active and engaged community.

Book Launch in November 2018
One of Kevin Allen’s first public history presentations in 2013

In gratitude, Kevin has reflected on a number of special moments from the decade’s deep dive into local queer history.

  1. The blog: www.calgarygayhistory.ca was the information clearing house that started everything. One post that blew up was: Our History with the Police, written during the 2017 debate around police participation in Calgary Pride. The most read blog post continues to be Gay men are smarter than straight men – so says history, written in 2013. It seems every day someone in the world googles “are gay men smart?”
  2. Gay History Walks. Ever since 2013, situating queer history in the Calgary landscape on a warm summer night with enthusiastic walkers is a slice of heaven (although we had a snow squall once that added a decidedly different frisson).
  3. Everett Klippert. His life story has been a focus of the Calgary Gay History Project since its inception. However, everything deepened when his family got involved with the Project in 2015. Together we excavated Everett’s very profound role in changing Canadian history in 1969. His story continues to have posthumous impact, most recently with the expungement of his criminal record in 2020.
  4. Club Carousel. Calgary’s original gay bar founded in 1970 was arguably the most formative queer space the city has ever seen. Our first commemorative Club Carousel Cabaret was held in 2014 at the High Performance Rodeo thanks to Third Street Theatre and our impresario Michael Green (RIP). Our second Cabaret was held in 2015 thanks to One Voice Chorus—sold out each time!
  5. Gross Indecency: The Everett Klippert Story (2018). Saying “yes” to filmmaker Laura O’Grady was one of the best decisions we ever made. Not only did this short film garner festival laurels, but through the process Laura became a good friend. We made another great film in 2021, called Undetectable. Laura has our highest esteem.
  6. Our Past Matters. The book had a difficult birth. It took four years to write—not one year, as planned. However, it was embraced in pre-production by a successful Kickstarter campaign and since has gone on to be a local best-seller as well as on the curriculum for some University of Calgary undergraduate classes. We are ever so grateful both for insightful readers as well as independent bookstores.
  7. Legislating Love. Natalie Meisner’s play about the life of Everett Klippert was history turned into sublime art (I wept). Sage Theatre mounted the world premiere in 2018, and the play continues to gather praise, most recently winning an “Oscar” at this year’s Dublin International Gay Theatre Festival.
  8. HiR. Kevin was honoured to be the inaugural Historian in Residence when the New Central Library opened in 2018. It was a high water mark for the Calgary Gay History Project and a terrific experience. The Library graciously hosted the book launch of Our Past Matters—an incredibly special memory now.
  9. A Queer Map: The Calgary Atlas Project (2019). Kevin collaborated with artist Mark Clintberg on the first published map of the Calgary Atlas Project: an art project by the Calgary Institute for the Humanities at the University of Calgary. It’s beautiful.
  10. Lois Szabo Commons. Last summer the City of Calgary unveiled a new park dedicated to Lois Szabo, the only living founder of Club Carousel. The park is a public and permanent commemoration of queer history in our city. We were honoured to participate in the nomination process and count Lois as one of the dearest people we know.
Lois Szabo Commons Opens July 21, 2021

No historian is an island. So many people have contributed to the success of the Calgary Gay History Project. In closing, we would like to give a shout out to project volunteers past and present: Nevena, Del, Rosman, Matt, Ayanna, Sheldon, Laura, Jonathan, Nolan, and Tereasa!

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Queer History Pause

The Calgary Gay History Project is taking a well-deserved break. We will be back in late June to celebrate international Pride Month and take stock of a decade’s work on local queer history.

In the meantime, you can check out some amazing queer history—just north of us—with the launch of the Edmonton Queer History Project this week. The project has links to self-directed walking tours, essays, podcasts and more. There are many historic connections between Calgary and Edmonton’s LGBTQ2 communities. The launch of the Edmonton Queer History Project is a development to celebrate; congratulations to all involved.

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In Hot Water: Gay Politics

{Congrats to Sheldon Cannon on this engaging series. Sheldon is presently interviewing other Calgarians connected to the Goliath’s Raid and we look forward to future posts! – Kevin}

Terry Haldane, Stephen Lock & the 2002 Goliath’s Bathhouse Raid

At around 2:30 PM on a Thursday, Calgary Police Service officers invaded one of our community’s safe havens, Goliath’s Bathhouse. This surprise raid occurred on December 12, 2002. In this series of blog posts, we will delve into the history of the Goliath’s raid. Along the way, we will explore injustice, changing queer culture and the politics of the gay and LGBTQ2+ communities, past and present.

Read Part 1: The Raid: here.

Read Part 2: The Court Battle: here.

Read Part 3: Our Relationship with the Police: here.

On the whole, the composition of the LGBTQ2+ community is defined by exclusion: composed of anyone who doesn’t fall into the dominant cisgender heterosexual framework. The beauty of this is that it has created a network of diverse people, all of whom have the experience of being marginalized in one way or another and who generally share a common goal of free sexual and gender expression. The flipside to this is that it seals disparate groups of people under a common title, which can muddle each group’s sense of identity. For the most part, a lesbian’s life does not look the same as a gay man’s life, which does not look the same as an intersex person’s life, which does not look the same as a nonbinary person’s life. So, it’s not helpful to pretend we all live a homogenous experience.

Under the LGBTQ2+ banner, it is still useful and natural for each group to have their own tribe with similar sexual and gender identities as themselves. Terry and Stephen found that in the past, at clubs, gay men and lesbians generally each did their own thing on a night out, needing time with their own people before all coming together for brunch the next day. They see Goliath’s as one such place where gay men can be around other gay men in a gay, masculine, sexual, and social environment. Being around others like oneself can strengthen one’s sense of identity and provide an outlet to be at ease. But, of course, there is a delicate balance between community building because of affinity versus being exclusionary. It is helpful to be under our larger LGBTQ2+ alliance in pushing for recognition of rights and especially fighting for our most vulnerable subgroups.

Physical Spaces and Sexuality

The Goliath’s raid story allows us to reflect on how our community and sexual connections have evolved over time. Currently, the gay sexual experience often centres on messaging and meeting from dating or hookup apps with little interaction beyond that or perhaps meeting somewhere like a gay club.

In the past, to meet other gay people, one needed to meet them first in real life, either at a bar, bathhouse, community organization, or some other physical space. As a result, these spaces often served multiple needs, facilitating both sexual and social connections. Terry and Stephen talked about how one would often go to the baths thinking they’d have this crazy sexual experience. Instead, they’d end up talking with someone and learning about each other’s lives: an unexpected and genuine human connection. Terry told a story about his friend Paul who would invite people he knew to Goliath’s every few months, rent the biggest room and bring a white tablecloth, champagne bottle, ice bucket, and candelabra, and throw a party with about 30 men. Terry describes it as one of the happiest, fun times in his life.

Further back to the AIDS crisis, the gay community was devastated from the virus’s effects but socially was at its strongest. Terry and Stephen say that at the time, there were about 60 LGBTQ2+ organizations in the city then. They remembered Gaylines (support/counselling phone line), a gay fathers group, gay and lesbian youth group, AIDS Calgary (now HIV Community Link), Apollo Friends in Sport (still active), the gay rodeo, CLUB Calgary (cowboy leather uniform buddies), OffCentre, two gay choirs, Camp 181 monthly dances, and more. The frequent funerals were another social bonding aspect of gay life at the time. Back then, connection via physical meeting was a necessity because of the lack of the Internet and a need to support one another through traumatic times. This led to a strong sense of belonging and cultural identity.

Now, with HIV posing less of a threat, relatively easy access to sexual partners via apps, and greater acceptance into general society, being gay is easier than ever. However, the necessity for physical meeting spaces has declined and with it the sense of connection to the local gay community. Goliath’s is still active, and cruising still exists, but they hold a less prominent position in gay sexuality now than before, with our sexual lives moving more to the private domain than the communal. Nevertheless, these spaces still hold an essential role, especially for men seeking an anonymous hookup or those who enjoy the semi-public or communal aspect of the bathhouse.

Another likely reason that the role of the bathhouse has declined is that gay men are increasingly more assimilated into mainstream society rather than being a distinct subculture. For many, being into other men is just their sexual orientation, and their lives are otherwise indistinguishable from their straight counterparts. The tension between assimilationist and liberationist schools of thought in gay politics is longstanding. Assimilationists aim to have gay people accepted into mainstream life, and liberationists reject conforming to traditional lifestyles, aiming to create an alternative lifestyle accepted as equal.

There are benefits to today’s level of assimilation: gay people can get married should they wish, we face less discrimination at work, and it’s getting easier to be accepted by family and friends. The downside to assimilation is that conformity can be stifling, the spirit of liberation gets lost, and our community loses its uniqueness and edge. Places like Goliath’s are a reminder of how our community adapted to meet our needs on the fringes of society, and I argue they are some of the last bastions of true disinhibition. The concept of a dedicated place for men to have gay sex with each other simply because they want to is such a radically liberated idea that it’s at odds with almost everything in traditional society, which is exactly why it is important.

During COVID, where we are all physically separated more than ever, I think we can all appreciate the importance of in-person human connection, be it social or sexual. The bathhouse still fills an important niche in our community. It is a symbol of our struggle for sexual liberation and an institution for us to be proud of; we should defend our ability to use it. Bathhouses are a connection to our community’s past and a unique aspect of gay life, having a place to be around others like us and indulge in the human experience.

Advertisement in February 2003 issue of Outlooks Magazine

Conclusion

When I asked Terry and Stephen their vision for the gay community, they said they don’t want an unhealthy divisive community, but a return to where gay men have a sense of identity “as to who we are, what we’re about, who we love, what we contribute to society, and still have room to include other people and their causes. So we need to say, hey, let us do this to help you, but not become so entrenched in a conglomerate of all these groups of people and organizations so much so that we lose ourselves.”

We should remember the people who experienced violations of their liberties by state officials and those who fought back against the raid despite the tremendous personal cost. We cannot become complacent with the liberties we enjoy because, back in 2002, people thought bathhouse raids were a thing of the past.

We still have a long way to go in advocating for our minority communities with the police, but it’s worthwhile to defend our sexual liberties and gay institutions. Hopefully, as in-person interactions resume post-COVID, our community will be able to reconnect. Perhaps we will have a renewed appreciation for our physical meeting places and how they enhance our community.

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