Gay History Walk—Take 2

Thanks to everyone who attended Kevin’s reading of Our Past Matters at Shelf Life Books last Saturday. As the event started a deluge broke over the Beltline and drowned Pride in the Park which also cancelled the scheduled Gay History Walk that afternoon.

Minutes after this photo was taken on August 27, the storm clouds broke.

We will try again this Saturday, September 3rd for a gay history walk through the Beltline. The weather forecast looks fine! The walk begins at 2:00 PM in Central Memorial Park (meet at the Boer War Memorial in the centre of the park) and ends at 3:30 PM at Lois Szabo Commons, a new city park celebrating LGBTQ2 history. Learn about the City’s fascinating queer past.

Spaces are limited; please register in advance through Calgary Pride or by emailing: calgarygayhistory@gmail.com and write in the subject line “history walk.” Free event.

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Our Gay Gordon

There is an unsung hero of the Calgary Gay History Project. His name is Gordon Sombrowski and he is married to research lead Kevin Allen. Consequently, he volunteers (or is “voluntold”) when asked to help out. This short list of tasks includes carrying the microphone on gay history walks, schlepping books, fulfilling book orders, and staffing the history booth at the Calgary Pride Festival—he’ll be there again in 2022. Fortunately, he is an enthusiastic queer history participant. But meanwhile, in the background, he has been creating his own legacy in Calgary.

Join Gordon for a pride week reading from his latest collection of short stories, What Narcissus Saw, on Sept. 1 at Shelf Life Books. Last month, What Narcissus Saw became a finalist for the 2022 Whistler Independent Book Awards. His delightful tales take place in Fernie, BC, Gordon’s hometown, and include several LGBTQ2 characters—people whom you’d swear you know. Although he likes to remind us that “all characters are fictional and events like those told in these tales happen every day and everywhere.”

Gordon is an active community volunteer. He is a founder and current volunteer for the Calgary Chinook Fund, which supports charitable organizations providing services, programming, and education, for and about the LGBTQ2 community.

Chinook Fund Members: Tony Hailu, Michel Bourque, Chris Post and Gordon Sombrowski with Nola Wuttunee (centre) receiving the Hero Award in memory of her father Bill Wuttunee in 2019.

Gordon is a past-president of the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Association (GLCSA), now Calgary Outlink and was the founding president of Fairy Tales Presentation Society, now Calgary Queer Arts Society, when it became its own society separate from the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers (CSIF) in 2004.

Festival Preview photo in FFWD Magazine: June 3, 2004 
Pride Festival volunteers: Ayanna and Gordon at the History Booth in 2017

Thank you, Gordon, for all that you do for Calgary’s LGBTQ2 community, and good luck at the Whistler Independent Book Awards ceremony in October. And Happy Pride!

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The 30 Years Ago Culture War

1992 was a tumultuous time for the LGBTQ2 community. AIDS deaths in Calgary were exponentially rising. Its response, Queer Nation (We’re here, we’re Queer, get used to it!) was also in the ascendent. Opinion polls stated clearly that the majority of Canadians did not support our rights.

If you were an out, undergraduate student at the University of Calgary, you were quickly conscripted into a culture war—I remember a lot of shouting on campus and gay bashing in the Beltline.

Our club at the University was called GLASS, which stood for the Gay and Lesbian Academics Students and Staff Society. GLASS was supposed to be a social organization but its very existence then was political. GLASS members—virtually all students and no staff—were foot soldiers in our human rights struggle.

On June 17, 1992, a poster was found tacked to the GLASS office door. It was an invitation scrawled in black sharpie: “FAG & LESBIAN BASHING. JUNE 30, 8 AM UNTIL MIDNIGHT. PLEASE COME, NEED VICTIMS.” The date and address listed were for Calgary’s 1992 Pride Parade & Festival at Tomkins Park.

From the U of C archives, GLASS file

In a press release the next day, Greg Lane, Co-chair for GLASS wrote: “Lesbians, gays and bisexuals live in a continual climate of potential violence. I am deeply concerned about these tools of oppression.” He noted that it was not the first time that GLASS had been targeted on campus.

In a move of solidarity, student politicians from the Students’ Unions of U of C, SAIT and Mount Royal College, all swiftly and publicly condemned the action of the unknown poster author, who was never caught, despite police involvement.

That October, GLASS held its second Blue Jeans Day, a borrowed gay liberation intervention from the 70s. It was rediscovered by many campuses in the 90s to coincide with National Coming Out Day. The idea was to wear denim if you supported gay rights. Blue Jeans Day became an explosive event in 1992 that was vociferously debated both in campus media and at many social gatherings on campus.

Gay Blue Jeans Day Poster from 1973, University of Melbourne Archives

Despite the vocal opposition, on October 9, 1992, Blue Jeans Days proceeded. Many varsity queers and their allies were cloaked head to toe in denim: our pride armour. Many others were pissed off and denim-less. It was an angry moment.

FFWD to 2022. Calgary Pride is back in person after the pandemic and will likely top 100,000 participants again. A decisive majority of Canadians support our rights. So much has changed, yet here we are in another angry moment in history, like the irate Valbella email sent to Canmore Pride.

Is this a call to arms? How did we get through this last time? Where can future pacific days be found? These are my questions—without answers yet—30 years after 1992.

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