Tag Archives: AIDS

Rocky Mountain Singers—Week 2

The Calgary Gay History Project recently presented the history of Calgary’s first LGBTQ2 chorus, the Rocky Mountain Singers (RMS). This is the second blog post exploring the history we uncovered as part of this commissioned research project (thanks to One Voice Chorus).

1990 proved to be a pivotal year for Calgary’s LGBT community. AIDS was in the ascendant, and the community was beginning to find its political voice—confronting the casual homophobia that was pervasive in the city. RMS had been practicing for less than a year but had scheduled their first big concert on June 22nd as part of Calgary’s growing Pride Week festivities.

RMS at the Pride Rally. Source: CBC Calgary

A few days before the concert, RMS participated in a Pride Rally in Central Memorial Park. The Calgary Lesbian and Gay Political Action Guild (CLAGPAG) organized the rally to agitate for LGBT human rights. In fact, this rally on Monday, June 18th, 1990, is considered Calgary Pride’s origin event. CLAGPAG handed out free lone ranger masks at the Old Y, and directed participants to gather at the Boer War Memorial for speeches and songs.

For some, the masks were a media stunt, but others worried about having their LGBT identity revealed. This concern was a reality RMS had to negotiate in the choir’s early years. Members had differing levels of comfort in being out, which affected their ability to perform in public or even have their name listed in the program.

The First RMS Concert Poster: made on a dot matrix printer by chorister Patrick O’Brien!

However, the concert went bravely ahead. Luke Shwart remembers: “Pride 1990 felt like our very first concert. It was set up cabaret-style and sold out. It went very well, but backstage the level of anticipation was through the roof! People were terrified about walking out there and performing—there was a great sense of exhilaration, accomplishment and relief afterward.”

The concert was a hit. Karen Whyte in Modern Pink Magazine wrote, “a special highlight of [Pride] week was the outstanding performance by Rocky Mountain Singers. Over 200 people attended the concert, and everyone loved it!”

Later that summer, 15 RMS choristers flew to Vancouver for the Gay Games. They participated in the Festival Chorus: a choir for anyone who wanted to sing and was coming to the Games. The Gay Choral movement had been spreading across North America, and hundreds came to sing.

The Festival Chorus was directed by choral conductor Carol White from Denver, Colorado. The Calgarians in attendance found the experience electrifying—the sheer volume of that many voices was profound.

Patrick O’Brien remembers: “We had to learn about 14 songs. One of the songs was called Living With AIDS. It had a hymn-like quality. Carol directed it professionally—cutting it into bits for us to practice. At one point, she paused and said, ‘If there is anybody who is comfortable standing up who is currently living with AIDS—can we as a group collectively acknowledge your strength?’ RMS member Karl Siegfried stood up, and then and men started standing up everywhere in their sections. It was an amazing, powerful moment. I think the women from our chorus looked around and thought: what do you know….”

Part of the Vancouver Festival Chorus in Rehearsal
Carol White conducting the Festival Chorus at the Gay Games Closing Ceremonies. Source: communitystories.ca

The Festival Chorus rehearsed every morning for a week. They performed at the Gay Games opening ceremonies on August 4th, marched in the Pride Parade on August 6th, gave an evening concert on August 10th and delivered a final performance at the closing ceremonies on August 11th.

The Gay Games ended with Carnaval! A fantasy parade. Fantastical creatures and people in extravagant costumes led the audience, choristers and athletes, out of the stadium and towards the Plaza of Nations for one last party together. The exhilarated Rocky Mountain Singers had found joy in a larger community and new energy and purpose for their fledgling Calgary chorus.

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Remembering Mark

One of the moving aspects of working on local gay history is that—sometimes—the stories you are sharing of long dead activists come to life when living family members reach out and connect.

In April, I was writing a series about AIDS: reflecting on one pandemic while we move through another. I discovered the story of Mark Perry-Schaub, a thwarted Calgary ’88 Winter Olympics volunteer, who fought to regain his volunteer position after losing it, because he had AIDS.

After coming across the post, Ann—a relative—wrote to me. Mark died before Ann was born; this unknown Uncle left a haunting ache in Ann’s family.

Mark Perry-Schaub (photo courtesy of his family)

Ann explained: “I’ve always been drawn to learning more about Mark, and talking about him. That’s why I contacted [his friend] Dave McKeen when I was 16, and attempted to contact Doug McKay, Mark’s friend who’d been his roommate and cared for him in the final months (unfortunately McKay died in 2005 when I was a toddler). I’ve written a number of essays on Mark, and AIDS in general, for school… I just always wanted to know more, like as much as is possible without being able to meet him. I think being LGBT+ myself results in me being even more interested, like he could have been such a great supportive figure in my life. We could have been close.” 

Ann shared photos, news clippings, and fleshed out details of Mark from family stories. Mark, even appeared in an AIDS Calgary video: Respect Yourself Protect, Yourself. Although I had seen it before, I did not make the connection that the man named Mark in the video was Mark Perry-Schaub. What a surprise to see Mark animated again!

Mark in a still from AIDS Respect Yourself Protect Yourself

According to Ann, Dave McKeen told her that: “Mark had a heart of gold and even when too ill to really help, he was still volunteering his time and energy to help those in greater need; no one volunteered as much as he did.”

Mark died on April 1, 1988, aged 26, just weeks after the Calgary Winter Olympics concluded. His memorial service was held at the Metropolitan Community Church. Although his parents weren’t in attendance, his siblings were; it was a profound loss.

Ann shares, “it sounds like he was an amazing person. Of everyone, alive or dead, he’s the person I’d want to meet the most. I imagine he’d have been an awesome uncle.”

I think Ann is right…

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Our History Matters

Calgary Gay History Project Researcher, Tereasa Maillie, has curated a history series to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Calgary Pride!

Beginning tomorrow, the first of ten online programs, launches. The series includes the history of LGTBQ+ newcomers in Canada, the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Calgary, and films on gay and lesbian life in ‘50s and ‘60s. On September 4th, the series will go out with a kick and a twirl: History is a Drag will feature performances by top drag artists taking a new spin on our stories and histories.

“We really need a celebration of culture, of gender, and of sexually diverse communities in 2020! So let’s challenge the histories we hold at the same time,” Tereasa explains. The series intentionally explores history from different angles, lenses, and identities.

The series is free and held online through Showpass. View the full calendar of Calgary Pride’s Learning Series workshops at https://www.calgarypride.ca/learning-series/

forbiddenlove

Film Poster from the NFB’s groundbreaking lesbian history doc.

Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives (1992)
August 14, 7-9 pm
National Film Board – 1 hour 30 minutes with discussion to follow. A Queer film classic, Forbidden Love is a historical documentary on what was happening for Lesbians in ‘50s and ‘60s Canada. Interviews from women of all ages and cultures are interspersed with a pulp lesbian romance story. Join Natalie Meisner, Lalangi Ali, Tereasa Maillie, and Lois Szabo as they discuss the film’s impact on them personally and their understanding of Canadian history.

Gross Indecency: The Everett Klippert Story (2018)
August 15, 7-8 pm
TELUS Originals – 17 minutes with discussion to follow. Join director Laura O’Grady, Kevin Allen, and lawyer Brian Crane to discuss Everett Klippert, the last Canadian to be jailed for homosexuality. Winner of the Calgary International Film Festival 2018 Best Alberta Short.

klippert2

Kevin Allen in a scene from the film, Gross Indecency: The Everett Klippert Story. Photo courtesy, Spotlight Productions

AIDS in Canada: The Forgotten Pandemic
August 20, 7-8:30 pm
HIV/AIDS is still with us: More than 70 million people have been infected with HIV and about 35 million have died from AIDS since the start of the pandemic in the late 1970s. A frank and open discussion on the epidemic with survivors, medical experts, and historians of our country’s response.

Queer the Music
August 21, 7-8:30 pm
Local musicians, including Toni Vere, speak about the history of Queer music in Calgary and share their own stories. Join us for some powerful musical performances too.

Rainbow Connection: History of LGTBQ+ Newcomers in Canada
August 24, 1-3pm
Canada has been a leader in recognizing LGBTQ+ refugee claims and resettling refugees fleeing persecution based on their sexual orientation and gender-based identity. Join the discussion with a panel of experts on the history of LGTBQ+ immigration and refugees to Canada.

Small Town Queer- Film Series
August 27, 7-8:30 pm

TELUS Story Hive – 2019 – Three 20 minute shorts with discussion to follow
Join us for an online screening of Laura O’Grady’s three excellent films about Fort McMurray, Medicine Hat, and Lethbridge’s Queer communities, which includes a discussion after each section about the history of small town life. Panelists include members of the Queer community from these towns.

Origins
August 28, 6-7:30 pm
An exciting discussion with the founders of Calgary Pride about the early days, the changes in our community, and how Pride has shaped our city.

Queering the Archives
September 1, 7-8:30 pm
Local historians and archivists will share stories hidden in the records and discuss the need for archives and museums to support Queer history.

Queer Art Destroys History
September 2, 7-8:30 pm
A lively panel with LGTBQ2S+ artists who tackle art, society, and history, confronting and sharing Calgary’s Pride.

History is a Drag – Performance
September 4, 7-8:30 pm
Three outstanding drag performers take a page from Calgary’s history to reinterpret it in their own way. Shane On You, Nada Nuff, and Farrah Nuff will transform your ideas on what history is with stories and songs.

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