Pride of the West: Calgary keeps it real
A wind change is coming in Mountain Time: having increased their attendance tenfold over the past five years, this 23rd edition of Pride Calgary will see the province’s Conservative Premier Alison Redford participate in the event, which is a first in the province known for its staunch political and religious conservatism. We chat with Pride Pres Dallas Barnes about how they’re keeping it real in a tough town.
There’s still a lot of work to be done to make Calgary, and Alberta in general, a safer and more accepting place for LGBT people, Pride president Dallas Barnes tells us. But a wind change is coming in Mountain Time: having increased their attendance tenfold over the past five years, this 23rd edition of Pride Calgary will see the province’s Conservative Premier Alison Redford participate in the event, which is a first in the province known for its staunch political and religious conservatism.
“Calgary Pride started off with people walking down the street with paper bags over their heads,” says Dallas Barnes, Pride Calgary’s passionate volunteer president since 2011. When she moved to Calgary from Vancouver, she was shocked to hear about the original 1990 demonstration, where the marchers concealed their faces under paper bags, both out of actual fear of being recognized, and to symbolize the stigma that keeps so many LGBT in the closet. “That was one of the reasons I got involved, and that kept me going, just knowing how good the community is and how backwards the city was,” Barnes admits. There is still a significant problem of gaybashing in both Edmonton and Calgary, Barnes says: “I’ve had people berate me for holding hands with my girlfriend on the street,” she says, still dumbfounded by the prevalence of homophobia in the city.
“In all of Canada, [Calgary] has been one of the slowest to come to terms with the diversity. There are a lot of [LGBT] people who never come out,” Barnes explains, which is what makes getting their Conservative premier as a key-note speaker this year such a coup. Recently reelected in a heated battle with the Red Rose Party, Premier Alison Redford has marched in the parade before, as an MLA candidate for the semi-urban riding of Calgary-Elbow, but no political leader has ever been an active participant in the city’s Pride events. (Distinguishing her party’s brand of fiscal conservatism from the more religious-based Red Rose Party was seen as key to Redford’s repeated success in the spring election). Redford’s government was widely praised by community groups this year for reinstating provincial medical funding for sex reassignment surgery, a decision which will be celebrated at the Pride Parade on September 2.
Strength in numbers
“Almost all of our gay bars closed this year, except for 2, which has been really devastating,” Barnes admits. “But I think with those closures, we’re realized that there is strength in numbers when you come together,” adds the educator and writer for Gay Calgary Magazine. The absence of places for people to come together, particularly youth, is something that has inspired a lot of Pride Calgary’s outreach and events.
“We try and make as many youth-friendly and non-alcoholic events as possible. We have a drag king troupe who does a lot of performances where the money goes to Miscellaneous Youth,” a non-profit that will be helping put on Pride’s Youth Prom. Like many pride festivals in Western Canada, Calgary ensures a lot of all-ages venues, such as their Family Zone, which they set up on Stephen Avenue, the pedestrian street they occupy for the duration of the festivities.
Pride Calgary’s community focus is evident in all its aspects, even its website, where corporate logos are notably absent from their launch page. “It’s still a really grass-roots city, so we try hard to balance the commercial sponsorships and the community focus. We haven’t been going for the huge cash donations, so we don’t have to put logos everywhere,” Barnes explains. While TD Bank is an official sponsor, for example, Pfizer’s ubiquitous Viagra campaign is nowhere to be seen.
In order to inject some high-energy party into the week without breaking the bank, Pride Calgary formed a partnership with Pure Pride, an Edmonton-based LGBT event outfit that will produce the closing party at the appropriately named Flames Central complex. Touting their official dance party as “the Biggest Sexiest Pride in Calgary History!” the Saturday night event (Sept. 1) stars RuPaul’s Drag Race alumnus Chad Michaels, along with LA’s gay DJ duo the Perry Twins (who also headlined New York Pride’s Pier Dance this year).
With a pride committee that stays true to its roots and keeps the meaning of the event in the forefront, Pride Calgary may have found the perfect symbiosis between the political reasons for the event, and their community’s more fabulous expectations.
Aug 25 – Sept 3, 2012