Tag Archives: CLAGPAG

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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Homophobic Hoteliers Created Activists

The catalyst for the formation of the Calgary Lesbian and Gay Political Action Guild (CLAGPAG) came out of an act of discrimination. In the Autumn of 1988, a group called Project Pride was arranging a special fundraising event to help send a Calgary contingent to the 1990 Gay Games in Vancouver. They had just completed Calgary’s first Pride Festival that June and were on a roll.

The event was to be a banquet at a downtown hotel with high profile Member of Parliament Svend Robinson as the keynote speaker. Robinson had recently come out as gay, which was a precedent setting first for a Canadian MP.

The Delta Bow Valley Hotel happily entered into a contract with Project Pride to rent their hall and provide a banquet dinner for 70 people. In February 1989, Project Pride’s Co-Executive Director Cheryl Shepherd went into the hotel to make the final arrangements and informed the hotel about her organization’s constituency: lesbians and gays. She was then told that there had been a “misunderstanding” and that the Delta was not prepared to rent to such a group.

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The Family of Man statue in front of the Delta Bow Valley Hotel in Calgary 

Sexual orientation was not a protected ground under the Alberta Human Rights Act then, so the Delta’s decision was completely legal. The rejection prompted outrage among a couple of movers and shakers in the gay community. Dr. Ruth Simkin, an outspoken physician often labelled a lesbian feminist in the media, and John Steen, a gay man who was a Liberal Party Organizer, aimed to tackle the injustice.

Both Ruth and John were members of Calgarians Networking Discretely (later the Calgary Networking Club, an organization for gay and lesbian professionals), which was a partner to Project Pride in organizing the banquet. As neither Project Pride nor Calgarians Networking Discretely had any appetite to be political, Ruth and John thought an organizational name behind their protest would be advantageous: a working title of Calgary Lesbian and Gay Political Action Guild was created.

They sent protest letters to the Calgary press, the Delta Hotel’s head office in Toronto, federal MPs, the provincial and federal human rights commissions and the provincial Labor Minister Rick Orman, who was responsible for human rights. They got an immediate response and a flurry of excited local and national media coverage.

The president of Delta Hotels, Daniel Oberlander, called Ruth from Toronto to apologize personally and sent a complimentary bottle of wine. Local Delta general manager, Tom Matthews, was on the record calling the incident a misunderstanding. He said, “If we offended this group or any other group, that was not our intention and we apologize.” The Delta then made a cash donation to CLAGPAG, which turned out to be seed money for the organization.

The Palliser Hotel stepped into the breach and offered to host the banquet, which they did, and as the controversy died down, CLAGPAG became an official entity, with a 15-person steering committee by May, 1989. CLAGPAG was active for ten years and had many achievements, not the least of which was organizing the first Pride Rally and first Pride Parade in Calgary.

{Note: the Delta Hotel of the past is not the same Delta today.  This year, the hotel hosted  the sold out, 40th Anniversary Coronation of the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Chinook Arch}

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Origins: The Pride Calgary History Panel

25 years ago the LGBTQ community decided to get political – and here we are today…

On Friday, September 4th, 2015 from 5:00 – 7:00 PM we will have Nancy Miller, Stephen Lock, and Richard Gregory on a panel moderated by the Calgary Gay History Project’s Kevin Allen.  Our panellists were all key figures in the Calgary Lesbian and Gay Political Action Guild (CLAGPAG), who organized the first Pride Rally in Memorial Park in 1990 and the first Pride Parade  in 1991.

Come out to hear about the particular tenor of their time: fighting back against homophobia and intimidation, as well as the great camaraderie and tangible human rights victories.

CLAGPAG today

Stephen Lock, Nancy Miller & Richard Gregory: Pride Founders

Origins is presented by the Calgary Gay History Project and Pride Calgary, and is proudly sponsored and hosted by the Hyatt Regency Calgary, 700 Centre Street SE.  The panel formally begins at 5:30 PM but come early and grab a drink from the cash bar.  The panel is a free event – open to everyone.

1991 Pride Parade

1991 Pride Parade (source: Calgary Herald)

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