Tag Archives: Bob Harris

Infighting in 1980

Gay Information and Resources Calgary (GIRC) hosted the 8th Annual National Conference of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Rights Coalition (CLGRC). Typically all of the cities who had hosted the conference in years prior also had coordinated a parade. However, factions in Calgary’s gay community were opposed to having a gay rights march here. The most prominent voices against were gay club owner Vance Campbell and Reverend Lloyd Greenway of MCC Calgary.

At a feisty public forum, sponsored by GIRC on April 7th, the parade’s opposition was strongly manifest, forcing GIRC to reluctantly cancel the planned march and propose a rally instead. The critique against the march centred around fears of property damage as well as religious, homophobic backlash.

Vance Campbell, who owned the Parkside Continental and who also was a part owner of Myrts and the Backlot, sent a letter to Mayor Ross Alger regarding the parade, stating: “The remarks attributed to GIRC are not fully representative of the gay community, but of a small group of persons interested in creating a problem where previously there had not been one.” He copied his missive to Calgary’s Chief of Police, Brian Sawyer.

Rev. Lloyd Greenway said, “We’ve had it good here for so long. There are other ways to get rights than be going out and marching. Calgary does not need a bunch of eastern radicals – and believe me I’m from the east and I know what they’re like – marching through downtown.”

The Imperial Court of the Chinook Arch was on the record saying: “the minute you start flaunting yourself, you’ve got a problem. [The march] is an embarrassment to the entire community.”

There was also a petition, whose source was unknown, circulating in local gay clubs, addressed to the Mayor and Chief of Police to thwart any proposed gay rights march.

The divisive debate was widely covered in local press, and saw several gay sources make controversial statements such as suggesting that there was no discrimination in Alberta, and that gays have it good in Calgary. GIRC, and the rest of the activist community in Calgary (as well as across the country), strenuously disagreed. The Body Politic, Canada’s gay liberation journal, wrote an editorial decidedly in support of a march.

By mid-May GIRC’s Board of Directors decided to obtain a parade permit – just in case – should the conference delegates decide to hold a march on their own accord. However, Chief Sawyer refused to sign a parade permit and told GIRC that participants in an unauthorized march would be arrested and charged with creating an unlawful public disturbance.

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GIRC President Bob Harris talking to Police at City Hall Rally, June 28, 1980.  Photo source: Body Politic, Issue 65 August 1980.

In the end, about 40 angry conference delegates massed on City Hall on June 28th, for refusing to issue the parade permit. They silently picketed for about 30 minutes: purposefully silent so as “not to create a public disturbance.” They then sang, “O Canada,” and headed off to their planned gay rights rally on St. Patrick’s Island. Ironically, the assembled group marched over there without any trouble.

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Calgary Activist Stephen Lock at City Hall Protest.  Source: Body Politic, Issue 65, August 1980.



Pride Proclamation Declined Twice by Mayor Alger

Keeping with the Pride theme this month in Calgary, we would like to take you back to 1980, when Mayor Ross Alger wrote to Gay Information Resources Centre (GIRC), president Bob Harris.


Mayor Alger declined Harris’ request to formally declare June, 27, 1980 Gay Pride Day in Calgary.  Unlike other politicians in his day who tended easily to casual homophobia, he wrote, “I fully respect the rights and freedoms of your organization and its members.”

Obviously, a political hot potato at the time.  Alger in 1979 dodged Harris’ previous request for a proclaimed Gay Community Day on November 24th by alleging a crowded calendar, booked up into December of that year.   Mayor Alger’s Executive Assistant, John Gray, was on the record saying “if GIRC resubmits its request at a later date the mayor’s office will be pleased to consider it.”

Alger’s diplomatic letter on April 2, 1980 was the conclusion of that consideration.  Ross Alger died in January, 1992 from cancer.  His obituary in the Globe and Mail praised him as “a gentleman politician who never stooped to low blows.”

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Placard-Waving Homosexuals Picket City Hall

The City of Calgary for the longest time did not like Pride Parades.  One of the earliest confrontations between City Hall and the gay community happened in 1980.  Gay Information & Resources Calgary (GIRC) was hosting a national gay rights conference at the University of Calgary.  These conferences in the 70s and 80s moved around the country as the gay rights movement gathered a critical collective mass.  Calgary’s conference was the 8th annual event: at each conference, the organizers would stage a human rights parade.

However, City of Calgary Police Chief, Brian Sawyer, refused the permit for the parade citing that “confrontation was a possibility.”  Organizers decided to march anyway.

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Photo: Calgary Herald, June 30, 1980

40 of the conference delegates, marched silently for half an hour, ending at City Hall with their placards of protest.  Bob Harris, a member of the GIRC collective, and conference chair, spoke at the protest.  He said, “We do know how to conduct ourselves – we’re not running through the streets screaming and yelling.”

The delegates later moved to a rally in Centenary Park on St. George’s Island.  One of the speakers at the rally was Alberta Federation of Labor representative Ken Neal who expressed his disappointment that the parade permit was denied.  “Gays are constantly harassed,” he said, “we object to such unfair and discriminatory treatment.”

Protests, rallies and marches were springing up all over North America in this period and became an important platform for the gay rights movement, creating visibility for a relatively unknown community.  GIRC was located in the Old Y Centre for Community Organizations; Calgary Outlink today is a direct descendent of that 70’s incorporated non-profit society.