Tag Archives: Gay Information & Resources Calgary

Mayor Ralph Klein’s Gay Rights Tempest

Former Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, had a high-profile disdain for gay rights: denouncing  the advent of same-sex marriage in Canada as well as publicly disagreeing with the Supreme Court’s inclusion of sexual orientation as a protected human right in Canada. In both cases it was the Government of Alberta, under his leadership, who supplied an active legal resistance to both issues.

However at the beginning of his political career, he seemed a different person. Elected as Mayor of Calgary in October 1980, he touted himself a “people’s mayor.” And in the early months of his mayoralty that included gay people too.

On January 10, 1981, Mayor Klein stopped in at the 5th annual coronation ball of the Imperial Court of the Chinook Arch (now Imperial Sovereign Court of the Chinook Arch – which held its 40th coronation earlier this year). He was invited by Bruce May, then president of Gay Information and Resources Calgary (GIRC). Klein gave a 15-minute cameo appearance, where he made a speech praising the good work of GIRC and exclaimed that law-abiding gay people were welcome in the City of Calgary. The 500 people in attendance gave him a three-minute standing ovation. Consequently, Klein was one of the first mayors in Canada to have made such an address.

The Calgary Sun, one of the city’s newspaper dailies, took extreme umbrage that Klein appeared at a gay event and for days wrote damaging and hostile editorials and columns.

On January 12th, the Sun’s banner headline was, Klein backs gay rights. Mayor Klein and his Executive Assistant, Rod Love, went into full damage control, attempting to find a favourable spin for the story. Two days later, associate editor Michael Shapcott wrote a scathing editorial titled, Pink Herring – here is a quote:

Mayor Ralph Klein can backtrack all he likes, but he can’t undo the damage from his foolish decision to show up at a homosexual rally and speak approvingly of “gay rights.”

What the heck was the Mayor trying to prove?  And what’s all this nonsense about “gay rights?”

[If] Mayor Klein’s talking about a homosexual’s privilege of doing any perverted act in private between consenting adults, no matter how repugnant it is to most of us, then he’s stating the obvious.  As long as homosexuals, or people who practice any number of bizarre things, keep it to themselves, they can do practically anything their filthy minds conceive (just leave the kids alone, please).

Fact is, though, when homosexuals talk about “gay rights,” they really want society to pat them on their heads, coo a few encouraging words and tell them that they’re all nice and normal.  And Mayor Klein should know that by attending their convention, and mouthing a few approving words, he’s playing right into their hands.”

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Calgary Sun Editorial Cartoon: January 14, 1981

On January 15th, the Sun wrote a column, Klein for gays, but….  In it, staff writer Peter Miller quoted Mayor Klein extensively as he awkwardly qualified his support for the gay community. He explained that gays should not ask for or expect any special rights or privileges, nor hold demonstrations or parades in Calgary because the protests would offend straight people. He also did not condone gay prostitution nor gays drawing young people into homosexual activity.

That would not be the last time that Klein changed tack politically.  At one time a liberal supporter, he switched teams to become elected as a conservative MLA. However, the Calgary Sun’s sustained attack in 1981, appeared to give Klein a scare that would set the tone for his relationship to gay rights during the rest of his political career.

{KA}

 

Our Windi City

Windi Earthworm, a gay artist and activist, lived in Calgary in the 1970’s, and was notable for his gender non-conforming dress and street music. He was a dedicated agitator who had the conviction of his beliefs.

In the early 1970s, Windi chained himself to a marble pillar in the Palliser Hotel when the during a provincial Conservative convention, to protest the absence in Alberta of legislation protecting homosexuals from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

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Windi Earthworm circa 1979.  Photo: François Couture from kersplebedab.com

In 1975, as part of the People’s Liberation Coalition, he was one of four protestors who took guerrilla action against an anti-gay skit.  It was included in the nightly performance of a band called The Dandies in the Four Seasons Hotel’s Scotch Room.  One evening in June, when the skit was about to be unleashed, Windi and his friends rushed the stage and took over the microphone.  They explained to the surprised audience why they were offended.  As the hotel bouncers dragged them away, they asked the manager if she had ever been to a gay bar.  When she replied, “no,” they told her they would going to invite all of their friends and turn the Scotch Room into a gay bar the following night if the performance was not changed.  It was changed.

At that point the four activists saw the need for a gay activist group in the city.  Gay Information Resources Calgary (GIRC) started shortly thereafter.  The group’s first chair was John Windi (a.k.a. Windi Earthworm).

Activist Doug Young (1950-1994), in a 1980 interview, remembered Windi hanging out in the Kings Arms Tavern in the mid 70s, and always thought him a bit strange with his long bluejean skirts.  He noted that Windi did not stay long at GIRC as the other people who helped set it up thought he was crazy and eventually squeezed him out.

Filmmaker, Claude Ouellet, recalled meeting Windi in 1976 when he was a young person hitchhiking across the country.  Finding himself in Calgary, without money, he ended up meeting the troubadour on 8th Avenue Mall.  Windi at that time was taking in street kids who needed shelter.  Windi sheltered Claude and his friend for the night.  Claude thought the denim skirt and cross dressing flare was courageous for Calgary in 1976.

Later in the 1980s, when both lived in Montreal, Claude made a documentary about Windi as a year-end film school project.  At that time Windi was central to that city’s anglo anarchist left.  He often was hassled by the Montreal police (or worse) for being a strolling musician (despite being licensed as such).  He was also seen occasionally in press coverage being dragged away from peace demonstrations.

Described as a caring, unique, and challenging human, Windi died of AIDS in 1993.  Windi’s courage and artistry are remembered fondly on a memorial website: There’s a Fire Truck on My Ceiling: Windi Earthworm Remembered.

{Wishing you a reflective holiday season and a happy new year!}

{KA}

 

Placard-Waving Homosexuals Picket City Hall

The City of Calgary for the longest time did not like Pride Parades.  One of the earliest confrontations between City Hall and the gay community happened in 1980.  Gay Information & Resources Calgary (GIRC) was hosting a national gay rights conference at the University of Calgary.  These conferences in the 70s and 80s moved around the country as the gay rights movement gathered a critical collective mass.  Calgary’s conference was the 8th annual event: at each conference, the organizers would stage a human rights parade.

However, City of Calgary Police Chief, Brian Sawyer, refused the permit for the parade citing that “confrontation was a possibility.”  Organizers decided to march anyway.

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Photo: Calgary Herald, June 30, 1980

40 of the conference delegates, marched silently for half an hour, ending at City Hall with their placards of protest.  Bob Harris, a member of the GIRC collective, and conference chair, spoke at the protest.  He said, “We do know how to conduct ourselves – we’re not running through the streets screaming and yelling.”

The delegates later moved to a rally in Centenary Park on St. George’s Island.  One of the speakers at the rally was Alberta Federation of Labor representative Ken Neal who expressed his disappointment that the parade permit was denied.  “Gays are constantly harassed,” he said, “we object to such unfair and discriminatory treatment.”

Protests, rallies and marches were springing up all over North America in this period and became an important platform for the gay rights movement, creating visibility for a relatively unknown community.  GIRC was located in the Old Y Centre for Community Organizations; Calgary Outlink today is a direct descendent of that 70’s incorporated non-profit society.

[KA]