|The announcement that Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark will lead the 2001 Pride Week parade symbolizes a significant year in politics for Calgarys gay and lesbian community. But a right-wing religious groups reaction to the news is a reminder of the unfortunate fact that intolerance persists.
When Clark defeated Canadian Alliance candidate Eric Lowther, the early favourite in Calgary Centre leading up to the federal election, it was largely due to support from gays and lesbians who joined a coalition backing Clark in an effort to defeat Lowther.
Keith Purdy, Pride Weeks co-chair, says Clarks victory marks the first time that the gay community influenced election results.
"I think this is a huge step for the gay community at large. If they come together on a cause... they can see the results of what the gay community do," he says. "After this, its only going to be heightened."
That sentiment is reflected in the theme of this years Pride Week, "Unity in Diversity." Purdy notes that asking Clark to lead the parade was more than an acknowledgment of the communitys role in his election victory, it also represents increased acceptance in the community at large. Pride Week has attracted national sponsors, and participation in local events has been growing annually the committee expects attendance at the parade and street fair on June 10 will far exceed last year, and the event may have to move to a larger venue in 2002.
"Were taking a giant step forward this year.... Were becoming a group that is gaining respectability and gaining acceptance as well," he says.
That progress, however, is not without setbacks. Last week, the Westboro Baptist Church led by Fred Phelps issued a news release stating that it will picket the parade in religious protest of Clarks involvement. WBC preaches hatred and intolerance of gays and lesbians through its Web site, and courts media attention by staging stunts such as picketing the funeral of Matt Shepard, the victim of a gay bashing, in 1998.
Although Purdy is concerned about the protest for safety reasons, he is not offended by the WBCs trash talk. He explains that the gay community has been dealing with such groups for years and in some respects he invites the controversy.
"The only way that were going to move forward is to confront these kinds of things head-on," he says.
"This is what Pride Week is all about is to celebrate our community and to confront the community at large, to confront these issues....
"If we dont give the opportunity to these types of groups to come forward and talk about these issues, there is no way we can deal with them."
The effort to deal with intolerance is an ongoing process in Calgary, where police statistics show that reports of hate crimes have increased 56 per cent over the last three to four years.
Cst. Doug Jones, hate bias crimes co-ordinator for the Calgary Police Service (CPS), says crimes targeting people based on their sexual orientation ranked second in frequency, following race. However, he believes they would top the list if members of the community were more easily identified, as race is, and if all crimes were reported.
Jones, who is also the police liaison for the gay and lesbian community, is trying to increase reporting on all crimes within the gay community, whether its a hate crime or domestic abuse. He explains that members of the community are often reluctant to report incidents out of fear that their names will be revealed or that the police discriminate may against them but that is changing.
"I want to encourage the community to report, and if they are not happy with the service they get, to contact me," says Jones, who holds sessions on the gay community for all new police recruits.
He has been working with the community for more than a year, during which he has been conducting a survey to help identify the issues its facing. Jones plans to release a short version of the results on Pride Day, and advises people to read his column in Outlooks, a monthly publication geared to the gay and lesbian community.
"I hope the work Im doing is going to change the reporting and the attitude," he says.
Stephen Lock, a representative of the gay community on the police liaison committee, says people are less afraid to report crimes now than they were in the past. He adds that although the CPS has always been fairly liberal, 10 years ago the city was a very conservative community and the gay community kept to itself.
"Thats starting to evolve because the community is becoming a bit more comfortable, more open. Its matured a bit."
Lock says its important to report hate crimes because, if the person responsible is charged and convicted, the offense carries a heavier penalty than an assault charge.
"It can result in an increased sentence for the perpetrator, and that sends a message out there that you cant go out attacking... people with impunity."
If someone doesnt want to go on record, however, Lock encourages them to at least report the incident anonymously to the Victim Assistance Unit, which enables the CPS to include the report in its statistics.
Pride Week runs from June 9 to 17. For more event information, see the listings in this issue, visit www.pridecalgary.com, or phone the info line at 262-3410.