Mark your calendars on Thursday, February 16th, for a stimulating gay history evening at Contemporary Calgary called Involve. This evening of discussion will feature New York Stonewall Uprising Activist Martin Boyce and Calgary’s Club Carousel Founder Lois Szabo, sharing their perspectives and experience of the 2SLGBTQ+ human rights movement.
Sponsored by local interior design studio, Lawrence, we caught up with designer Mitchell Brooks about Involve.
Mitchell explains: “I heard Martin Boyce speak last spring in Calgary and found his personal stories and perspective on the equal rights movement and community deeply profound. When International Day of Pink announced Martin was going to be coming back to Calgary this winter and looking for speaking events, I saw it as a great opportunity to host Martin again and make a local connection to his story and experience. As much as we know some of the international history and movements, I believe Canada and Calgary has a rich queer history as well. We wanted to pair the Stonewall event with what was happening in Calgary around the same time and thought the connection with local Rainbow Elder, Lois Szabo, would enhance that dynamic conversation in a way we may not have all heard before. On top of that, as the principal of Lawrence Interior Design Studio, I pride myself in being a visible and open example of a queer business owner in Calgary.”
Inspire hopes to educate. The event is framed as a queer-led conversation about queer history with queer people, but all Calgarians are welcome.
Mitchell adds: “our past matters—to know how far we’ve come, but also how far we still must go, and the importance of maintaining our progress and place in society. Our history also matters in recognizing and celebrating the people who have led us here and continuing to share their experiences further. What’s so great about the Calgary Gay History Project’s work is that it shares and protects the local history that we closely identify with. In hosting this event, I hope to make a small contribution to support that work, celebrating the history we all represent.”
Today is a holiday for many in the world. From my secular angle, Epiphany, or January 6th, represents the conclusion of the Christmas holidays. In 2015, I wrote: “I just looked up the meaning of epiphany and it means “manifestation” which I think will be the running theme for the Calgary Gay History Project.”
The Calgary Gay History Project has done manifesting well. Check out our top ten list: here.
In 2023, our manifestation priority is developing the Calgary queer archives. Since the Project was founded in 2012, we have been accepting donations of papers and artifacts about Calgary’s 2SLGBTQ+ past. They now need to be accessioned appropriately in a professional archive—likely at the U of C—to be made available to future researchers. (And to free up some floor space in our apartment…)
One of our favourite objects in the archive is Jack’s vest! Jack Loenen was the first Emperor of the Imperial Court of the Chinook Arch (ISCCA), elected to that position in January 1977 to a sold-out crowd at the then-downtown Holiday Inn. He wore this leather vest during and after his reign and placed all the pins he collected from other courts he visited representing the ISCCA.
Although Jack is now deceased, his partner Peter Kelsch made this important donation to the Calgary Gay History Project in 2015. I just met up with Peter again a few weeks ago, who had more archive donations and stories to tell (thank you, Peter)!
We at the Calgary Gay History Project wish you a happy new year, including some epiphanies, manifestations or both.
We are delighted that Calgary queer author Suzette Mayr has won the 2022 Giller Prize for her latest novel, The Sleeping Car Porter. It is the story of Baxter, a closeted gay Black man working as a porter on a Canadian passenger train in 1929.
Of the winning book, the jury wrote:
“Suzette Mayr brings to life –believably, achingly, thrillingly –a whole world contained in a passenger train moving across the Canadian vastness, nearly one hundred years ago. As only occurs in the finest historical novels, every page in The Sleeping Car Porter feels alive and immediate –and eerily contemporary. The sleeping car porter in this sleek, stylish novel is named R.T. Baxter –called George by the people upon whom he waits, as is every other Black porter. Baxter’s dream of one day going to school to learn dentistry coexists with his secret life as a gay man, and in Mayr’s triumphant novel we follow him not only from Montreal to Calgary, but into and out of the lives of an indelibly etched cast of supporting characters, and, finally, into a beautifully rendered radiance.”
We last saw Suzette two years ago in the depths of the Covid pandemic at the Fernie Pride Festival. There was a window in September 2020 when public health restrictions allowed for outdoor gatherings in restricted numbers. So despite the evening chill and the anxiety of the early pandemic, Suzette came out for Pride. Her author talk and reading was from Monoceros—a previously celebrated, queer-themed work, which had been long-listed for the Giller Prize.
Our literary event host, author Angie Abdou, and Suzette were good-humoured about the hot drinks, warm clothes and torch heaters that made the event possible. Despite the obstacles, we were all so grateful to be together after months of being home alone. Thank you, Suzette, for showing up for the queer community the way you do. We’re such big fans and proud of your success—congratulations!