Tag Archives: Calgary Pride

Pride Wrap with Princesses

We talked to hundreds of people at last Sunday’s Pride Festival at Fort Calgary. Thank you, everyone, for the insightful questions, oral history tidbits, and sharing. For example, we learned about a former gay bar on Macleod Trail that we never knew existed (a future blog post…).

Two notable visitors to the history booth were this year’s Calgary Stampede Princesses, Sikapinakii Low Horn and Jenna Peters. They were enthusiastic to be participating in Calgary Pride. We also saw them, waving to the crowds, on an impressive float in the Pride Parade. The Calgary Stampede has been formally participating in Pride since 2017.

The Calgary Stampede Princesses visit the Calgary Gay History Project’s Kevin Allen. Jenna Peters (left) and Sikapinakii Low Horn (right).

Meeting the Princesses made us think how the pageantry of the Calgary Stampede and Calgary Pride are similar. Both have famously well-attended parades (now on the same route) with many participants dressing up in a particular fashion (cowboy-drag vs. drag-drag).

Fabulously, which two communities have such a strong connection to royalty protocols?

The Calgary Stampede anointed their first monarch in 1946, Stampede Queen Patsy Rogers.

Our own royal society, the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Chinook Arch, is the longest running queer organization in the city. Their first coronation ball, held in January 1977, crowned Calgary’s first Empress Veronica Dawn and first Emperor Jack Loewen. 

Both royal societies have a robust tradition of fundraising and being ambassadors for their respective Calgary communities. Good work we can celebrate and particularly resonant this week with the passing of our national monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.

{KA}

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!

{KA}

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.

{KA}