Valbella Gourmet Foods’ self-immolating email got us thinking about corporate cultures and their historical impacts on the LGBTQ2 community. In the short-term, flammable corporate moments—like Valbella’s—lead to concerted damage control and reputation management. On the other hand, the Canmore Pride society, the scorched recipient of the email, has felt an outspoken (but perhaps transitory) lift in community support.
Occasionally, corporate homophobia and transphobia can lead to significant organizational change and have positive after-effects.
In this vein, the catalyst for the formation of the Calgary Lesbian and Gay Political Action Guild (CLAGPAG) came out of an act of discrimination. In 1988, the Delta Bow Valley Hotel cancelled a gay community fundraising dinner when they realized the booking was for a gay group. A similar media firestorm ensued: but before the internet, this meant sensational newspaper and television coverage. The apology from Delta corporate headquarters in Toronto included a cash donation. This payoff became seed money for CLAGPAG, who later started Calgary’s annual Pride Parade and did critical social justice work in our city.
At Imperial Oil, a gay chemical engineer named David Mitges, who had been working for the company since 1980, started attending his company’s annual shareholders’ meeting in 1993. For eight sequential years, he asked Imperial to offer same-sex benefits, despite the booing and harassment from the audience present. The national press described Mitges’ protracted tussle as “David vs. the Energy Goliath.” Finally, in 2000, Imperial capitulated and began offering same-sex benefits, which by that time had become more normative in corporate culture.
For historians, it will be useful to revisit Valbella Gourmet Foods and the Canmore Pride Society in 2032 to record what happened in the intervening decade.
Terry Haldane, Stephen Lock & the 2002 Goliath’s Bathhouse Raid
At around 2:30 PM on a Thursday, Calgary Police Service officers invaded one of our community’s safe havens, Goliath’s Bathhouse. This surprise raid occurred on December 12, 2002. In this series of blog posts, we will delve into the history of the Goliath’s raid. Along the way, we will explore injustice, changing queer culture and our complicated relationship with the police, past and present.
January 10th, 2013, was the first court appearance; Terry pleaded not guilty. Facing a potential of five years in jail, Terry faced trial for two years. Initially, due to the charge being a “sexual offence,” Terry was issued a “no-go order,” wherein he couldn’t enter the premises of Goliath’s or the Texas Lounge even for a drink with friends without risking arrest. However, the judge eventually dropped the no-go order, stating that it was a bogus charge, as the trial was pending: there was no reason he shouldn’t be able to get a drink. Regardless, the Texas Lounge and Goliath’s were closed for months.
Some of the tactics in the trial were underhanded, with the Crown not telling the defence lawyers about redactions in statements affecting the case and the police publicizing luminol evidence of semen and bloodstains on surfaces. The Crown also surveyed neighbouring establishments and people to get their opinion on the bathhouse being in their neighbourhood. This ended up backfiring on the Crown, as the general sentiment reflected in the survey was that neighbours were not concerned about the bathhouse as it wasn’t noisy. As well, there was no way for minors or members of the public to stumble in as the entry was double locked doors—it didn’t bother them men were having sex down there.
Prior to the raid, Goliath’s had been surveilled for six months. Retrospectively, patrons had noticed cars with people sitting in them near the premises, which was odd. Then, one night before the raid, Terry spoke to a young man in the shower who seemed nervous. The man stated that it was his first time there and asked if Terry could give him a tour of the place, and he did. Later, another patron commented to Terry that something seemed off with that guy. Terry replied that it was his first time, and the other guy said it was something else because if someone were nervous, they wouldn’t have asked for a tour.
That man turned out to be an undercover detective. When asked what he saw in court, the detective said he saw about 20 guys, that he saw a few guys watching TV, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, that kind of thing. When asked if he saw sexual activity in a public place, he said no, except he saw a man masturbating in his room with the door open, to which the judge replied something to the effect of “seriously? And that would be a problem; why? It’s a gay steambath; nobody else was there. What’s the big deal about that? That’s not even part of the evidence.” An undercover officer also spoke to co-owner Darrell, who told him something like, “all these men come to the bathhouse for sex, he keeps the place open, they drink, he didn’t know if guys are paid or not.” Terry supposed this exchange Darrell embellished to impress this man he didn’t know was an officer.
The police held a town hall meeting with the gay community at The Eagle leather bar following the raid. The community felt the meeting was pointless as the police would not divulge or admit anything, stating that the trial was still pending. Lots of anger was directed at the police for playing dirty. Mistrust between the gay community and the police peaked, which ran against the generally amicable relationship the two parties enjoyed before the raid.
For example, Terry and Stephen had been involved in three committees with the police, including the gay liaison committee, a drug committee, and a prostitution committee. In those years, a bridge was being built. The police participated in the gay rodeo, tried to recruit gay men as officers, and participated in Pride. The liaison committee existed to facilitate communication and cooperation between the police and the community.
There was a sense of betrayal of trust, especially on the liaison committee that they would do this raid—without warning. However, the order for the raid came from higher-ups, and the police liaison could not give the community advance notice. During the trial, Terry had to step back from his committee work. The general sense was that if he didn’t fight his case in court, it would virtually give the police a free pass to encroach on other gay establishments: the bridge between the two parties severely damaged.
On the public opinion front, Terry was able to push back thanks to the help of friendly media outlets. He appeared on several radio shows, including Speak Sebastian and Gene Rodman’s CGAY 92. He also appeared in print media, with one particularly poignant Xtra article featuring a racy picture of him in the shower taken by Stevie Lee Anderson aiming to “give them something to talk about.” A copy of the article was sent to Jack Beaton, the police chief at the time. Terry’s partner and activist Stephen also appeared in the media. The editor of Capital Xtra, based out of Ottawa, tried to get him to berate the police in an interview. However, Stephen would not, as he didn’t feel that the police deserved it, especially since they had both developed good, social relationships with many officers.
In general, Terry and Stephen felt that the response was stronger from other communities than from the Calgary gay scene. They had received letters of support from communities like Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal and New York City. The turnout at the town hall with the police was about 40-60 people. The community here generally avoided rocking the boat and turned the blame on victims, saying things like: “you shouldn’t have been down there anyway; it’s a terrible place.” When Stephen and Keith Purdy tried to organize a demonstration holding white towels in front of the Court of Queen’s Bench, only a handful of people showed up.
Stephen felt, in general, that Calgary’s gay community was relatively conservative or apolitical, that gay people here mainly were interested in going to the bar, going to Victoria’s for brunch, and cruising the park once in a while. He joked that he had a bruise from people poking a finger at him. He was often told, “you don’t speak for me” when working on issues like gay marriage with Egale, or pushing to get sexual orientation in provincial human rights legislation with the Calgary Lesbian and Gay Political Action Guild. For the Goliath’s event, this conservatism manifested in a lack of support or funds from those Terry called the “A-Gays:” wealthy, cocktail party hosting, privileged gay men he knew. Terry said they refused to sign cheques for the Goliath’s defence, not wanting to be associated with an “icky place like that,” despite the fact that Terry said he had seen several of them down at Goliath’s on multiple occasions.
The trial posed a major financial burden. Terry and Stephen paid over $75,000 towards the case, between fundraising and spending their own money. Thankfully, some of the legal work was done pro-bono, and the Egale Canada Defence Fund provided a sum of $60,000 to help with legal fees.
Eventually, in the next to last court appearance, the judge said that the case had to be moved along. Terry’s defence said that either the Crown had to dismiss the charges or that they were going to do a Charter rights challenge, which they would take to the Supreme Court if necessary. The judge chuckled and remarked that they were biting off quite a lot.
Three months and thousands of dollars later, at the final court hearing, the Crown gave the results of their survey and concluded that a conviction was unlikely, therefore they decided to stay the charges. This meant that if any new evidence were found in the next year, they would charge Terry again, but if not, charges would be dropped. Terry marked off the days on his calendar, and one year later, he was free.
Terry then returned to his police committee work and never held it against the police officers. He understood that they were following orders and did not mistreat anyone throughout the ordeal. Both Terry and Stephen maintained a staunchly pro-police stance and wished to see a return to the former cooperative relationship between them and the gay community, including their formal inclusion in Pride. Terry concluded that the Goliath’s ordeal didn’t sour him towards the police. What upset him was how this immense fallout happened due to an anonymous complaint left on an answering machine.
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.
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.
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….”
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 withCarnaval! 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.