Calgary Pride celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, and more than 40 years of rich history in Calgary…
By Elliot Rae Cormier
Photo by tography
We’ve come a long way, baby! From the humble beginnings of a backyard barbecue, to a few dozen marchers along 17th Avenue wearing paper bags over their heads to protect their identities, to small marches in areas that would disrupt the least amount of traffic…and on to our current celebrations, with the 2019 Calgary Pride Parade & Festival attracting 100,000 spectators.
Project Pride Calgary, a grassroots collective of six like-minded gay and lesbian organizations, formed in 1987 and put on the city’s first small Gay and Lesbian Pride Festival in June 1988.* In 1990, Pride Week kicked off with a political rally where folks congregated downtown at the Old Y Centre, suiting up in Lone Ranger masks and paper bags to prevent themselves from being identified by unsupportive landlords and employers.
Then Mayor Al Duerr took a political risk in 1991 by proclaiming the week of June 16 as Calgary’s first Gay Rights Week. Due to the conservative backlash that developed in the following weeks, he later renounced his decision, calling the support a mistake. The community declared their own Gay and Lesbian Rights Week the next year regardless, and pressed on without the support of the mayor’s office. After all, you can’t just cancel Pride.
Fast forward to 2011, when Mayor Naheed Nenshi became the first mayor to lead the Calgary Pride parade, perched on a red Mustang and donning his iconic royal purple “straight not narrow” T-shirt. He’s shown his support for Calgary’s gender and sexually diverse people and our initiatives ever since.
Recognizing Pride is ultimately an act of resiliency, community and love. Pride happens not just for a week or for a month, but all year round in our homes, in our hearts and out in our communities. And this year is already no different.
Over the past year, Calgary Pride, along with 22 other LGBTQ2S+ serving organizations and affirming faith groups, led the charge on bylaw legislation to ban the abusive practice of conversion therapy in Calgary. The LGBTQ2S+ community and our allies sent a strong message to the city: we are loved, we are valued, and we do not need to be changed. After two marathon days of live public engagement, the bylaw passed on May 25, 2020 in a 14:1 City Council vote.
Today, Calgary Pride is the fourth largest, and fastest growing, Pride Festival in Canada. We’ve nearly doubled in size over the past four years. Calgary Pride produces a whole host of year-round programming including Reading with Royalty (a gender-diverse drag storytime in partnership with the Calgary Public Library), Evolve: Pride Amplified (a fundraising gala for local LGBTQ2S+ youth programming), and Queerly Festive (a free holiday dinner and show to feed our found family’s bellies and hearts at a time when many of us feel isolated and alone).
We do this work with the support of our partners and with the dedication of a volunteer board of directors, eight year-round volunteer committees with over 60 members, hundreds of remarkable volunteers clocking thousands of hours, four summer contractors, two full-time staff and a seriously immeasurable amount of appreciation for our community.
Our past matters. The historic Old Y Centre from that game-changing 1990 political Pride rally is now known as CommunityWise Resource Centre. There, behind a rainbow door, is where the Calgary Pride office exists today.
Our future matters, too: this year’s shift to digital programming in light of the global pandemic offers us and all Pride organizations a unique opportunity to inspire more empathy, reach more vulnerable people and amplify more voices existing on the margins of our communities than ever before.
This year’s 30th Anniversary Calgary Pride Week, presented by ATB Financial, runs from Aug. 28 to Sept. 6, 2020. Calgary Pride is engaging with local businesses to support us in creating smaller, safer Pride events and initiatives, and we’re still recruiting Canadian artists and performers of all talents and mediums to strut their stuff online. Our team is happy to support artists through the technical side of the creation process however we can. Learn more and apply by June 30, 2020 at calgarypride.ca.
Together and apart, #WeAreCalgaryPride.
* Historical tidbits were generated with supporting information from Kevin Allen, research lead at the tory Project. Kevin’s book, tories of Gay Calgary (2018), is an amazing resource, and you can ask to order it at your local independent bookstore!
*This article is part of our Pride Voices series: We reached out to Pride organizations from coast to coast and asked them for their messages of support to the LGBTQ2S community, as a reminder that Pride is more than just a parade.
ELLIOT RAE CORMIER is a prairie queer non-binary artist and organizer, born and raised in the Treaty 7 region of southern Alberta. They now live and work in Mohkinstsis, the Blackfoot name for the place where the Bow and Elbow rivers meet, colonially known as Calgary. Elliot Rae has an extensive background in design and communications, and they’re currently the administrative assistant for Calgary Pride. They lament that their heart is too big for their body, so you can find them oversharing about life, love, gender and sobriety on Instagram @heckiot.