Tag Archives: Al Duerr

Pride and Pre-justice (a recap)

Proclaiming your gay pride in Calgary used to be hard. In previous years, homophobia and transphobia were actively practiced in our city. We had both an unsympathetic society and an unjust state. Here is the speediest of recaps.

1980 – Calgary gay activists host a national gay rights conference that ends in a controversial rally and march. Then Mayor Ross Alger and police Chief, Brian Sawyer are decidedly unsupportive.

1981 – Newly elected Calgary Mayor Ralph Klein proclaims he is a mayor for everyone including the gay community, then quickly distances himself from gays due to public outcry.

1987 –  Delegates from many of Calgary’s gay and lesbian organizations come together to form an umbrella organization called Project Pride Calgary. Inspired by the Stonewall Riots, they produce a Pride festival locally to celebrate community. Their first festival in 1988 includes a concert, workshops, a dance, and a family picnic – but no public rally or protest.

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1990 Pride Rally Poster

1990 – the Calgary Lesbian and Gay Political Action Guild (CLAGPAG), one of the Project Pride partners, organizes the first political rally, which they internally described as a media stunt. 140 people muster at the Old Y to pick up lone ranger masks, and then gather at the Boer War Statue in Central Memorial Park.

1991 – CLAGPAG more ambitiously, holds its first Pride Parade. 400 people at City Hall cheer gay Member of Parliament Svend Robinson, who gives an inspiring speech despite gloomy weather and even gloomier protesters, three of whom were arrested. 1991 is also the year Mayor Al Duerr famously proclaims gay pride week in Calgary but then denies future proclamations due to public pressure.

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Svend Robinson, June 16, 1991.  Photo: Luke Shwart

1998 – Vriend vs. Alberta. The Supreme Court decision forces Alberta to include sexual orientation as a prohibited ground for human rights discrimination. Alberta Premier Ralph Klein blusters, and stirs up his socially conservative base, but in the end capitulates.

2001 – Former Conservative Prime Minister, Joe Clark, agrees to be Calgary’s Pride Parade Marshall and solicits scorn from social conservatives everywhere, including the Westboro Baptist Church. “We might have a big crowd preaching against those fags up there Sunday,” Reverend Fred Phelps says from Topeka, Kansas but then fails to show up.

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Joe Clark, June 10, 2001.  Photo: Grant Neufeld

2002- Calgary Police raid Goliath’s Sauna, and charge operators and found-ins under antiquated bawdy house laws, provoking legal challenges from the gay community. (The Crown eventually drops charges in 2005 citing changing community standards)

2005 – Same-sex marriage becomes legal in Canada. The Alberta Government remains officially opposed and threatens to invoke the notwithstanding clause to negate the law in Alberta, but doesn’t.

2006 – Parade marchers tussle with protestors carrying signs “no pride in sodomy.” One marcher is arrested.  Police Chief Jack Beaton says publicly he disapproves of the protestors.

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2009 Pride Board Members, Dallas Barnes & Sam Casselman.  Photo: Kevin Allen

2009 – Pride Calgary moves the parade from June to the September long weekend, and transitions from a grassroots collective to an incorporated non-profit society.

2011 – Mayor Naheed Nenshi is the first Calgary mayor to march in our Pride Parade, and is parade marshall that year, making national headlines.

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Mayor Naheed Nenshi, September 4, 2011 Photo: Todd Korol, The Globe and Mail

2016 – Protestors are hard to find and politicians are seemingly everywhere – it has been an amazing journey.


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Calgary’s First Pride Parade – 1991?

Thanks everyone who came out to the Gay History Walk last night – what a crowd and great evening!  On the walk I heard that Pride Calgary organizers are expecting 35,000 – 40,000 people out for the parade on Sunday.  Amazing.  So I dug into the vaults and asked colleagues a few questions to determine when was the first Calgary pride parade.   I will call it as being 1991, but the demarcation line is a bit fuzzy… Read on.

As I mentioned in a previous post there had been a Calgary march and rally back in 1980.  However a Pride Parade in the classic sense, with its homage to Stonewall (being in June), occurred on June 16, 1991, which also happened to be Father’s Day.  The city was in a polarized uproar because Mayor Al Duerr, had gone out on a political limb and signed a proclamation declaring June 16-23, 1991 as the first “Gay Rights Week.”

The Mayor’s office fielded hundreds of angry calls condemning the decision.  Some Aldermen objected strenuously as well.  Alderman John Schmal said, the problem with Duerr’s proclamation was made on behalf of the citizens of Calgary and city council, adding “I don’t support any of that stuff; why don’t we just declare a heterosexual week?”  Alderman Ray Clark concurred: “If you want to put our names on this proclamation you’d better ask our permission.”  Aldermen Ray Clark and Carol Kraychy took particular offense at the choice of Father’s Day to commence the week.

1991 Pride Parade

About 400 people marched down Stephen Avenue ending up at City Hall to listen to a speech by B.C. New Democrat MP Svend Robinson.  He told the gathered assembly that the greatest barrier facing gays is their invisibility and silence.  “We are here to remind political leaders it is wrong in Alberta that it’s still legal to fire us from jobs, throw us from homes, and deny us goods and services because of who we love,” he exclaimed.

Nancy Miller, one of the rally organizers remembers, “It had been overcast that day and when Svend got up to the mic to speak the clouds parted and a beam of light hit him as he spoke – it was amazing.”

It was not all transcendental however, as two dozen protesters – one with a pit bull – behaved badly, eventually leading to three protester arrests.  Christian churches from an assortment of denominations had their own rally as well, drawing 1000 people “to pray for the city,” organizer Bob Gal explained.  He added that holding their event on Father’s day was appropriate as Christians had gathered to honour their Father.

Mayor Duerr, facing continued political pressure in the weeks after Pride, eventually renounced his decision, publicly admitted to making a mistake with the proclamation vowing it would never happen again.  In 1992, the Gay and Lesbian community proclaimed, “Gay and Lesbian Pride Week” themselves, taking ads out in public newspapers without any mayoral or civic endorsement.  And in 1993, Edmonton’s mayor Jan Reimer, proclaimed her city’s first Gay and Lesbian Pride Day, irritating Duerr’s (and Calgary’s) anti-proclamation stance.

Additional notes:  Calgary’s first “Pride Week” started as a weekend of workshops in 1988.  In 1990, Calgary’s 3rd Annual “Pride Festival” had a political rally that drew 400 at Memorial Park.  Consequently the first parade in 1991, was actually part of the 4th Annual Pride Festival.