Tag Archives: transgender

Music for a windi weekend

Gay rights activist windi earthworm died in 1993, but his music remains. A handful of recorded public performances give us access to his colourful personality and deeply-felt political convictions.

windi earthworm in 1970’s Calgary at his Thomson Brothers Block Apartment: photo Rex Leonard

On the memorial website: “There’s a Fire Truck on My Ceiling: Windi Earthworm Remembered,” one can download three albums worth of music and spoken word performances. windi whoops, trills, and yowls in his songs; his compositions are energetic and attention-grabbing.

An active participant in the politics of the day, windi’s compositions are combative, inspired, and filled with stories of repression from state actors who have targeted “the earthworm” as enemy. windi’s cross-dressing made him both a memorable and transgressive street musician—he had a following in every city he blew into, including 1970s Calgary. windi had a keen sense of injustice, which fuelled most of his lyrics.

Lover’s Laughter by windi earthworm

His friend, Rex Leonard, remembers windi as a complete extravert seeking cultural influence through his music. Rex mused as much as windi was an anti-establishment activist, he also was in awe of the rock scene and one day hoped to be a star: “I’m not Boy George,” windi quips in a performance in Montreal, “I’m Boy Worm.” windi has particular animus for the glam rocker, David Bowie, who he feels betrayed by. “Is it true you’re not gay, what’s a matter Bowie—don’t it pay?” he sings.

We’ve previously written about windi and Anita Bryant. You can listen to windi’s own recollection of meeting Anita in the preamble to his song Jumper in the Metro.

Jumper in the Metro by windi earthworm

In 2014, an episode of Montreal’s CKUT Queer Corps radio show featured interviews, news clips, and the music of windi earthworm. Now a podcast on Soundcloud, the episode illuminates windi’s impact on Montreal and his legacy there.


Save Our Children: windi vs Anita

This week, we were interviewed about the increasing hate and incivility directed towards Calgary’s queer community—thanks to CBC’s Terri Trembath for considering hatred’s historical context!

We can take inspiration from Calgary activist windi earthworm {he preferred lowercase letters when spelling his name}, who was fighting a similar battle 45 years ago. Back then, an American beauty pageant winner and entertainer named Anita Bryant went on an anti-gay rights tour across North America. In 1977, her campaign coined “Save Our Children,” led to the repeal of a homosexual anti-discrimination ordinance in Dade County, Florida.

She said during the campaign, “For several years I have been praying for God to revive America. And when word came that there was an ordinance in Miami that would allow known homosexuals to teach my children—God help us as a nation to stand in these dark days. There are many evil things that would claim—under the disguise of discrimination and under civil rights—would claim the civil rights of our children.”

Calgarians rallied to Edmonton in 1978 and stopped drinking OJ!

Bryant, who lived in a 27-room waterfront villa on Miami Beach, was then making $500,000 annually in singing engagements. In a televised interview, she was asked: “Anita, you are a person with a rather sizeable investment in your career, why are you taking this stand now and perhaps jeopardizing that?” She replied: “According to the word of God it is an abomination to practice homosexuality … Our pastor said he would even burn a school before he would allow [children there] to be taught by homosexuals, and we feel as strongly.”

Galvanized by her win, she travelled across the U.S. and Canada and was able to roll back human rights gains in a several other American states in addition to getting legislated a ban on gay adoption in Florida (this ban was only overturned in 2008).

Her orange juice connection is this. From 1969 on, Bryant had been the spokesperson for the Florida Citrus Commission. She was featured internationally in commercials, singing and smiling with the well-known tagline “Breakfast without orange juice is like a day without sunshine.”

The gay community fought back against “Save Our Children.” They initiated a boycott of orange juice, publicly denounced her initiatives, and in one case threw something at her: she was the first individual ever documented to get publicly “pied.” Afterwards, she quipped: “Well, at least it is a fruit pie.”

In 1978, Anita swung through Canada as part of Renaissance International’s Christian Liberation Crusade. She made a tour stop in Edmonton on April 29, 1978. Forty Calgary activists hurried north, joining activists there, to protest her cross-Canada tour.

windi earthworm and his activist friend, My Lipton, went independently of the loosely organized “Calgarians against Anita” delegation. They decided direct action was required to disrupt Bryant’s auditorium of 6000 supporters. My remembered: “We got in under the guise that we were students doing a study about the spaces people meet in. We scoped out the stage and decided on our spot.  I helped windi chain and lock himself.”

My then went into the seats to find a spot to generate a call and response disturbance with windi, but she turned back when she noticed audience members hassling him.  She asked windi if he was OK. He replied, “Yeah, except these really kind Christian folk are ready to hang me [by the chain around his neck].”

windi earthworm in the May 1, 1978 edition of The Albertan

Bryant eventually appeared at the Northlands Coliseum under heavy police escort. windi screamed: “You have me in shackles, Anita!” She replied, “I love you and I know enough to tell you the truth so you will not go to eternal damnation.” windi called back, “You love me so much you want me in prison.”  The heckling continued intermittently throughout the event, and windi and My were detained briefly afterward for questioning by police.

Meanwhile, the Coalition to Answer Anita Bryant (CAAB), which included feminist and labour groups, fired up the 300 protesters who marched to the Legislature: the most substantial pro-gay demonstration that Alberta had ever seen to that point. The Body Politic reported, “Bryant hits Canada; Canada hits back.”

Bryant’s crusade cost her dearly. By 1980, she was divorced, the Florida Citrus Commission had let her contract lapse, and her career as an entertainer tanked. Ironically, many gay activists noted that Anita did more for their cause than anyone who had come before her. The Globe and Mail cheekily concluded: “Closet doors open on Anita.”


Save Our Backlot

Calgary’s queer community is mobilizing to save the Backlot, a historic and cherished gay bar. The Backlot is one of the last remaining drinking establishments for the 2SLGBTQ+ community and a link to previous generations of queers.

The Backlot’s historic neon sign that has served every incarnation of the bar.

Lawyer and former politician David Khan has spearheaded a call to action, asking the community to intervene in the development approval process (UPDATED: submissions close February 28).

He writes:

I understand The Backlot Bar recently received notice of termination of its lease due to a project to redevelop the land into condos by its landlord and Truman Homes. I am very concerned about this proposed development and the damage it will do to Calgary’s 2SLGBTQ+ community, and I oppose this development.

The Backlot is one of only three queer spaces in the city. It has been a fixture of our community for 47 years, giving Calgary’s 2SLGBTQ+ community a safe space to gather and avoid the discrimination our community continues to face in mainstream society. Calgary has historically struggled to be inclusive and queer-friendly, as exemplified recently by the demonstrations and threats of violence against drag events in our city. The Backlot provides a safe and welcoming space for our community to socialize. Many non-profit organizations have used the venue to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for community projects.

The building in which The Backlot is located is also a building with deep historical roots and significance in Calgary. It was built by Thomas Underwood, a former Mayor of Calgary, as the Calgary Gas Company Workshop in 1907. It is one of the last remaining structures of its type (wood-framed, wood-clad commercial building) in Calgary from that era, and one of the oldest extant workshops associated with the oil and gas industries. It is cataloged in the City of Calgary Inventory of Evaluated Historic Resources.

The Backlot, like many businesses, struggled during the COVID pandemic. They have invested significantly in recent years to improve the building, including interior renovations and a completely revamped back patio space, staircase and second-floor patio space.

Mixed-use spaces are great, but residential use must be compatible with commercial use, especially in the downtown core. I am concerned this proposed development will not fit with the current businesses in this area (bars, restaurants, office space). If the development is approved, it must be designed so that a restaurant/bar with a patio space can operate in the same manner as it can in the current space.

The loss of The Backlot will seriously harm our community. I implore the City to reject this proposed development as it is currently conceived.

In addition, CTV Calgary reports: Backlot lease termination prompts movement to save decades-old Calgary queer space.

Social media pages “Save the Backlot Bar” on Facebook and Instagram will have the latest information about the campaign.

The Backlot’s patio in summer.