Tag Archives: Gay history

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}

YYCGayHistory @CalgaryPride 2022

A big thank you to all of the Calgary Gay History Project readers who filled out our survey for queer history offerings at Calgary Pride this year (August 26 – September 5). Here is where you will find us:

Saturday, August 27, 2 PM

Join Shelf Life Books and Kevin Allen for a talk about his book Our Past Matters: Stories of Gay Calgary. The talk will be followed by an open mic, where audience members can share their stories of Gay Calgary or read poems or prose pieces (with a 6-8 minute time slot limit). If you identify as a part of the 2SLGBTQ+ community and would like to participate, then please let us know at events@shelflifebooks.ca! You can also sign up before the event, space permitted. Registration for audience attendance is recommended and appreciated! Free event.

Saturday, August 27, 4 PM

The Calgary Gay History Project’s Kevin Allen will lead a gay history walk through the Beltline. Learn about the City’s fascinating LGBTQ2 past. The walk begins at 4:00 PM in Central Memorial Park (meet at the Boer War Memorial in the centre of the park) and ends at 5:30 PM at Lois Szabo Commons, a new city park celebrating LGBTQ2 history. Spaces are limited; please register in advance through Calgary Pride. Free event.

Friday, September 2, 7 PM

Our friends at The Calgary Institute for the Humanities presents the 4th Annual LGTBQ2S+ Lecture, featuring Dr. Jules Gill-Peterson. Titled: Trans Panic: A Global History, Dr. Gill-Peterson explores the history of violence against trans women. Where did it come from? And when did it arise? Letting go of a purely psychological lens, history shows that targeting trans femininity has been integral to colonial statecraft around the world for the past 150 years. On Zoom or in person at the Central Library. Reserve your spot: here. Free event.

Sunday, September 4, Noon

Our History Booth at the Calgary Pride Festival—Immediately following the Pride Parade on September 4, join us at Pride’s new festival venue – Fort Calgary. At our table there will be history artifacts, books, and ephemera as well as Project volunteers to answer questions and have conversations about Calgary’s Queer History. Sponsored by Calgary Pride. Free event. Stop by and say, “hi!” Happy Pride!

{KA}

Corporate Bigotry & Silver Linings

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.

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

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.

{KA}