When Calgary held its first Pride Parade in 1990, participants marched with bags over their heads. Celebrants today feel little pressure to cover anything. When then mayor Al Duerr issued a proclamation marking Calgary’s first Pride Week in 1991, the resulting outcry prompted him to rescind it. Twenty years later, in contrast, Mayor Naheed Nenshi served as the parade’s grand marshal.
Compared to its Toronto or Vancouver counterparts, Calgary’s Pride Week remains relatively small, but public acceptance of it has clearly grown. Pride organizers, however, still want all Calgarians to actively show their support, even — indeed, especially — if they don’t belong to a sexual minority themselves, since allies are the targeted colour of the rainbow in this year’s festivities.
“The idea behind including allies is that Pride itself is inclusive of every letter in the acronym,” says Pride Calgary publicist Jessica Dollard of the term GLBTQQIA (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer, questioning, intersexed, allies). “And so the events themselves are also inclusive, and reflective of that as well in terms of there really is something for everyone. Even people who aren’t necessarily in a same-sex relationship, but people who do support human rights.”
The coming Pride celebrations may carry a tinge of sadness. Gay bars Club Sapien and Fab both shuttered their doors earlier this year, and the Calgary Eagle, the city’s only leather bar, will soon bid farewell with an all-day closing party during Pride Week.
But the LGBT community, says Juliet Burgess of the Calgary Dyke March Committee, has found ways to fill the void. Burgess says organizers of the march — an unofficial Pride event — are anticipating as many as 400 marchers this year, double the number the first one drew in 2010. And that’s not the only sign of growth she’s seen in queer events over the past five years, despite the steady shrinking of Calgary’s gay bar scene.
“So it seems like the culture, the gay community, is shifting the way that it engages,” she says. “And we do need more gay spaces, queer spaces and, frankly, environments. But I think that every year we see an increase in attendance at all of the queer events, and more queer events happening.”
This year, one of the new events is the Bi-B-Q, a barbecue which organizers believe is the first ever Pride event targeted specifically towards — though not limited to — the bisexual community. Pride Calgary is also presenting more events in partnership with other organizations. Event production company Pure Pride, a regular at pride weeks across the Prairies, is staging the official dance party, and local event planners Les Girls are sponsoring the wrap-up party.
Pure Pride, at least, won’t differ much in content from last year — then it featured erotic performances by “porn superstar” Brent Everett, and this time it’s featuring erotic performances by “porn superstar” Spencer Reed. But that these parties will fall under Pride’s banner still excites Dollard.
“In the past they were just separate events in celebration of Pride,” says Dollard, “but this year there’s a real feeling of everyone coming together and really working together. Which I would say is new, and it’s pretty awesome. It’s powerful.”
But that people came together to plan Pride, Dollard notes, won’t count for much if people don’t come together to attend it. Even if public acceptance of the festival has increased, Pride Week requires more than that to succeed.
“Part of what Pride is about this year is a call to action, a call to getting people involved, and getting people to commit to Calgary Pride, not just pride in general as a concept,” says Dollard. “Pride in general as a concept’s pretty easy to get behind, but of course what we need is people to come, to celebrate.”