Tag Archives: idahot

Anti-Mother’s Day in Calgary

{Please join us for this week’s upcoming Beltline Gay History Jane’s Walk (May 7th at 10am) with special guest artist Bogdan Cheta performing!  – Kevin}

IDAHOT-for_partners_official_handles-2015-ENThis is our second post in advance of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, May 17th: our focus is society’s war on lesbian mothers in Calgary.

Well into the 1990s in Canada, lesbian mothers who had children in prior heterosexual relationships had trouble retaining custody of those children. For most of the 20th Century, Canada’s courts did not favour homosexual parents in keeping custody of their children; most judges viewed homosexuality as a negative factor in child rearing.

Consequently the stakes were high for lesbian mothers in coming out: many suffered isolation, fear, and often kept to the closet. In 1978, the first Lesbian Mothers’ Defence Fund was started in Toronto, and a chapter started a few years later in Calgary.

The Lesbian Mothers’ Defence Fund (LMDF) offered advice, support, referrals to lawyers, and financial help to lesbian mothers struggling to keep or win custody of their children. Advice in child custody cases included: going to court is the last resort; do not leave your children behind; beware of ex-husbands kidnapping your children. The LMDF also advocated for social change in the judicial system, proclaiming that the straight court system failed lesbians.

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Calgary LGBT publication, QC Magazine: Dec. 1995

Club Carousel founder Lois Szabo remembers lesbians in the 60s and 70s utterly broken after the loss of their children – and with no access rights – to embittered former husbands. Marilyn Atkinson, one of the Calgary LMDF organizers, was a mother herself. As a volunteer, she provided peer support to lesbian mothers and women during their custody struggles.

The LMDF was a low-budget, grass roots organization located at the Old Y. Pot-luck suppers and community dances were its main source of funding. In 1982, two Calgary lesbians took pledges to cycle across the county in order to raise money for the LMDF.  It took them four months but they made it to St. John’s that summer after starting in Vancouver.

As the LMDF developed, Marilyn was hired to organize lesbian conferences which proved quite popular with many lesbians coming from afar to attend. The first conference in 1985, was largely funded by the local lesbian community itself. When the conferences finally began to attract public funding, protest was heard.

Maureen Buruill, a lobbyist with REAL Women of Canada in January 1987 wrote a newspaper editorial complaining about her own organization’s lack of funding:

Women’s groups across Canada receive funding from the Secretary of State’s Women’s Program. One example was a grant to the Calgary Lesbian Mothers Defence Fund to set up a “lesbian-gay” workshop collective. This organization also received a grant to arrange a lesbian conference. Why is our tax money given to these groups and refused to a group seeking to preserve family values?

Despite vocal opposition, the LMDF, made a huge difference in fighting for lesbian mothers and moved social justice forward in Calgary.

Gay-Bashing in YYC. We remember.

As we approach May 17th, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, we thought it might be a good time to reflect on troubling moments from our city’s past.


The 1980s and 90s in Calgary were a particularly bad time for gay-bashing. Attacks were concentrated in the Beltline: one had to stay alert when walking there for thugs with baseball bats and a grudge to work out. As AIDS deaths mounted in Calgary – they hit their crescendo in 1994 – society at large had a lot of anxiety about the now visible gay community in their midst. Many bashings went unreported. Some people lost their lives.

In 1990, one Calgarian named Jeff Harris, recounted to a Calgary Herald reporter his nightmare which had occurred three years prior. Harris, then a 38-year old nurse, was on his way to meet some friends at a club, strolling there on a warm Friday evening in June. Then, near the intersection of 13th Avenue and 1 St SW, a baseball bat swung out from behind a garbage dumpster and connected with his face.

The first blow unhinged his jaw and knocked out some teeth. Several repeated blows sent even more teeth scattering down the sidewalk, and pulverized facial bones. His assailants then proceeded to kick the downed man for several minutes.

Finally, two men who had seen Harris’ three attackers from a nearby apartment gave chase to the assailants. Other samaritans came to Harris’ aid and called police and paramedics. Harris was just able to write his name on a cigarette package before he blacked out.

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Source: Calgary Herald Sunday Magazine, January 7, 1990

By coincidence, the ambulance delivered Harris to the same emergency room where he worked; his co-workers did not recognize him through the damage. Nine doctors, attended the beaten man, trying to preserve his tenuous hold on life. They estimated that he had lost more than six pints of blood and had severe brain swelling.

When the swelling was brought under control, it took more than 6 hours and 280 stitches to close Harris’s wounds and wire together his 27 facial fractures, including 11 breaks in his jaw.

Nine weeks of recovery in hospital, left Harris whole, but substantially changed and forever haunted.

The three assailants were found through a tip from a gay neighbour who lived in the same apartment complex as the thugs. The baseball bat, with Harris’ dried blood still clinging to it, was found in their apartment. Not only were the three charged in the Harris attack, they were also tied to other gay-bashings in the neighbourhood. The three roommates, who had formerly worked as bouncers at a local bar, pled guilty, and expressed surprise that Harris lived.  The oldest attacker was 22.



Countdown to IDAHOT + StoryHIVE (vote)!

May 17th is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

In 2014, 81 countries criminalize same sex relationships, which makes up 40% of the world’s population (2.8 billion people)!  Although we have made great human rights strides in Canada since homosexuality was decriminalized in 1969, there is still stunning homophobia here.

Two recent examples spring to mind.  On April 26th I was invited to speak at Knox Presbyterian Church for their Don’t Be Afraid benefit concert and forum, with special guest Scott Jones, from Nova Scotia.  This anti-homophobia campaign was started by Scott after being brutally stabbed last October and left a paraplegic.  He has taken the courageous step to transform his attack into something positive – reframing his world.  Furthermore, just this week I was contacted by CBC reporter, Carla Benyon, to respond to homophobic tweets twittered May 12th by Calgary Stampeder, Maurice Price.

May 18th is the last day to vote for our Telus StoryHive Project.

One of the facts that comforts me when confronted by homophobia now is the incredible courage of our elders, who fought for the human rights we have today.  Their stories inspire us to continue the fight against homophobia and transphobia.  Our documentary project: Club Carousel: A Queer Flag in the Sand, delves into the history of Calgary’s queer community.

Looking beyond the danger, a small group of people set out open Calgary’s first gay bar. In 1968, Club Carousel quickly became the hub of LGBTQ community activities. This windowless, basement club wasn’t pretty, but it offered safety, friendship and support. It was the foundation of a hopeful community.

Club Carousel changed lives and our culture. More than just a social club: it
was a communal flag in the sand whose impact can still be felt today.

Please vote today – and madly share this with others. Voting ends on Sunday,
May 18th – just 3 days away.  Helpful hints:

Register with your email address: here.
An avatar is NOT required unless you want to comment on projects.
You get 10 votes, please assign your max. of 5 votes to our project.
Spread the word and promote voting for Club Carousel via your networks.

Club Carousel Founder Lois Szabo in the 1960s

Club Carousel Founder Lois Szabo in the 1960s

Thanks for helping us in gathering support and sharing the stories of our community.