“Our history is about the stories, lives, experiences, and thoughts of individuals who built their lives around their newfound and often hard-won identity. We cannot lose that”. Stephen Lock wrote those words in the October 1994 issue of Clue!, one of Calgary’s queer publications at the time. In 2018, LGBTQ+ historian Kevin Allen released Our Past Matters: Stories of Gay Calgary, noting that the project was “ultimately about memory, and recording these essential stories of our humanity.” In this talk I follow the lead of Lock and Allen, by using archival and interview materials to explore the place of sport in Calgary’s LGBTQ+ history, from the 1970s through to the early 2000s. From softball to volleyball, running to swimming, Apollo Friends in Sport, and the Gay Games, the retelling of these stories on their own and in conversation with one another, reveal that sport played a necessary but sometimes complicated role in individual empowerment, community-building, and the Pride movement.
Dr. William Bridel is Associate Professor and Associate Dean (Academic) in the Faculty of Kinesiology at the University of Calgary. He specializes in sociocultural aspects of sport, physical activity, and the body. Current projects include investigations of LGBTQI2S+ inclusion in sport, as well as inclusion and safe sport policy. He is also interested in sport-related pain and injury, with a recent focus on athletes’ experiences of sport-related concussion.
This event will be simultaneously hosted in a live venue (University of Calgary, Taylor Institute Forum) and online on Zoom. All registrants will receive event details one week before the event and may decide to attend in either setting.
In-person attendees are required to follow all UCalgary COVID-19 event requirements: see event for details.
Reflecting on the 30th anniversary of Calgary Pride, I am struck by our progress. In June 1990, the Calgary Lesbian and Gay Political Action Guild (CLAGPAG), organized the founding Calgary Pride rally in Central Memorial Park, explicitly to protest our lack of human rights protections.
In his address to the pride rally, organizer Stephen Lock exclaimed:
“The prejudice and hatred continues. In Alberta, gay men, lesbians and bisexual women and men still do not have the rights our heterosexual peers enjoy. We still live under a government that, despite every opportunity to educate themselves on the reality of our lives and being, choose instead to cling to the poisonous myths, and to deny us, once again, the rights and protections that should be guaranteed every citizen of this province…
The right wing has enormous power on this continent and it is on the attack against us. It is dedicated in its zeal to eradicate the world of ‘the evil of homosexuality.’ Bashing us from the podiums and pulpits is no different than bashing us with baseball bats and iron pipes…
We need to fight back.”
In the early ’90s, there were more than 30 LGBTQ community organizations in Calgary, operating almost completely without government or institutional funding. AIDS deaths were increasing exponentially, gay bashings were commonplace, and lesbian mothers and gay fathers were denied access to their children.
Local media published hateful articles and editorials, such as this example in the Gauntlet, that same summer:
“Personally, what I see is a bunch of people who have nothing better to do with their time than wallow in self pity, and want to pass a law so they can enjoy an advantageous position over the rest of society. This is not a request for tolerance but shoving their choice in sexual practice down everyone else’ throat.”
Our community was defiant to sentiments like this.
Those early Calgary Pride Celebrations were astoundingly fuelled on volunteer power and button sales. Furthermore, we were standing on the shoulders of another generation who had defied even more intense social stigma and criminalization, organizing the first gay spaces, like Club Carousel.
During Calgary Pride 2020, our resilience has been again on display. The community has come together in innovative ways, offering programming, connection and empowerment to all of us. I am grateful that our community leaders sought to take the pandemic head on, reimagining what Pride could be in the context of a health crisis.
I am also grateful that Calgary Pride commissioned the Our History Matters series curated by historian and researcher Tereasa Maillie. It’s critical that we can reflect on our human rights journey: to see where we have come, and to understand what still needs to be done.
Thanks to all of the Calgarians who have come on Gay History Walks—fundraisers for Calgary Pride—all sold out!
The book, Our Past Matters, feels like it has been rediscovered this month. For everyone who has sent compliments, my heartfelt thanks. Some people have been uncertain as where to buy it. Here is the skinny.
Finally, if an e-book is more your thing, you can order it from Amazon.ca.
Fans of the book, can support its future by leaving positive reviews on Amazon or Good Reads.
One of this week’s highlights for me was meeting (virtually) lesbian historian Lillian Faderman. If you are interested in American LGBTQ history, her books are fine!
So tomorrow, in the other dimension where we are marching and celebrating and dancing and feasting after the Pride Parade, pause a moment to consider how far we have journeyed with Calgary Pride since 1990.
Gay Information and Resources Calgary (GIRC) hosted the 8th Annual National Conference of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Rights Coalition (CLGRC). Typically all of the cities who had hosted the conference in years prior also had coordinated a parade. However, factions in Calgary’s gay community were opposed to having a gay rights march here. The most prominent voices against were gay club owner Vance Campbell and Reverend Lloyd Greenway of MCC Calgary.
At a feisty public forum, sponsored by GIRC on April 7th, the parade’s opposition was strongly manifest, forcing GIRC to reluctantly cancel the planned march and propose a rally instead. The critique against the march centred around fears of property damage as well as religious, homophobic backlash.
Vance Campbell, who owned the Parkside Continental and who also was a part owner of Myrts and the Backlot, sent a letter to Mayor Ross Alger regarding the parade, stating: “The remarks attributed to GIRC are not fully representative of the gay community, but of a small group of persons interested in creating a problem where previously there had not been one.” He copied his missive to Calgary’s Chief of Police, Brian Sawyer.
Rev. Lloyd Greenway said, “We’ve had it good here for so long. There are other ways to get rights than be going out and marching. Calgary does not need a bunch of eastern radicals – and believe me I’m from the east and I know what they’re like – marching through downtown.”
There was also a petition, whose source was unknown, circulating in local gay clubs, addressed to the Mayor and Chief of Police to thwart any proposed gay rights march.
The divisive debate was widely covered in local press, and saw several gay sources make controversial statements such as suggesting that there was no discrimination in Alberta, and that gays have it good in Calgary. GIRC, and the rest of the activist community in Calgary (as well as across the country), strenuously disagreed. The Body Politic, Canada’s gay liberation journal, wrote an editorial decidedly in support of a march.
By mid-May GIRC’s Board of Directors decided to obtain a parade permit – just in case – should the conference delegates decide to hold a march on their own accord. However, Chief Sawyer refused to sign a parade permit and told GIRC that participants in an unauthorized march would be arrested and charged with creating an unlawful public disturbance.
GIRC President Bob Harris talking to Police at City Hall Rally, June 28, 1980. Photo source: Body Politic, Issue 65 August 1980.
In the end, about 40 angry conference delegates massed on City Hall on June 28th, for refusing to issue the parade permit. They silently picketed for about 30 minutes: purposefully silent so as “not to create a public disturbance.” They then sang, “O Canada,” and headed off to their planned gay rights rally on St. Patrick’s Island. Ironically, the assembled group marched over there without any trouble.
Calgary Activist Stephen Lock at City Hall Protest. Source: Body Politic, Issue 65, August 1980.