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Alberta theatre company claims anti-gay complaints hurt operations

City of Lethbridge says alleged petition had no bearing on Theatre Outré’s permit application

Councillor Jeff Carlson says Theatre Outré aligns with Lethbridge's efforts to revitalize the downtown area. "We have to make sure that they’re in an appropriate place for working with their neighbours." Credit: lethbridge.ca

A queer-inclusive professional theatre company in Lethbridge, Alberta, has announced it will stay put following suggestions that its space was in jeopardy over an anti-gay petition that was allegedly circulated by its neighbours.

Theatre Outré announced Jan 29 the closing of its performance venue, Bordello, located in the McFarland Building in downtown Lethbridge. On Jan 30, however, members of the company announced that they would work to stay open following meetings with their landlord and support from city councillors and their members.

“The outpouring of support we have received has strengthened our resolve to hold our ground against those who bully us in the building,” a statement on their website reads. “Many other businesses in the building have stepped forward to lend their support to us also.”

In a statement posted earlier in the week, Theatre Outré spokespersons Richie Wilcox, Jay Whitehead and Aaron Collier alleged that “neighbouring tenants” had made it clear in “various ways” that they were not welcome. That statement has since been removed from the theatre’s website.

They alleged that Dale Reimer, of Reimer Insurance, and Lydia Collin, of Lydia Collin School of Music, who operate businesses in the building, each sent the landlord an email that, in part, expressed concerns about being exposed to “homosexual lifestyles.”

They further allege that a petition had been circulated in the building, calling for the theatre to be evicted.

As of Friday, Jan 31, at 5pm, Theatre Outré had not released a copy of the email or petition to Xtra.

Requests for comment to Collin, Reimer and Theatre Outré were unsuccessful.

An outgoing phone message at Theatre Outré says that the company is no longer going to do interviews, as they are overwhelmed by requests.

Collin, an independent business owner who was trained to offer music lessons to children through the Music for Young Children (MYC) program, was suspended from teaching as a result of the alleged email, MYC vice-president David Riddell told Xtra.

“We do not agree with the viewpoints that were expressed, and we have nothing to with this situation, to be totally honest to you, but we are being inundated with hateful emails,” Riddell says.

Reimer recently told the Calgary Sun that his concern was not rooted in homophobia but the theatre’s proximity to young children.

“I am not homophobic; I’m rooted in a faith which is Christianity, and to be homophobic would be the wrong approach on my part,” Reimer said. “To have this theatre situated right next to a children’s music education centre, through an adjoining wall, is not appropriate.”

On its website, Theatre Outré says it provides an “uncensored and uncompromising voice to those in our community who are often considered to exist beyond the fringes of social propriety, sexual norms and gendered expectations.”

In their Jan 29 post, Theatre Outré alleged that the complaints effectively “road-blocked” the bureaucratic process that would allow them to operate a theatre.

But a spokesperson for the City of Lethbridge says the alleged petition had nothing to do with Theatre Outré’s application.

“A theatre representative attended our counter to apply for a development permit application in order to operate a theatre,” city spokesperson Carly Kleisinger says. “It’s a standard land-use bylaw, and every business or organization that operates needs a development permit application, and they didn’t have one. And what we do is say, ‘Great, here is your application and here is the deadline.’”

City councillor Jeff Carlson says the theatre has been operating without a permit licence for its entire existence.

“They are just realizing they need to get these ducks in a row and are just starting this process now,” he says. “I can sympathize with the folks who received this email, which would have been very hateful if it were true. I can sympathize with them for lashing out and having a knee-jerk immediate response. I can only imagine how I would feel if I felt that hurt, scared, frustrated and the entire gamut of things. I’m willing to cut them much slack.”

Carlson believes that Theatre Outré aligns with the city’s push to create a cultural corridor in a longstanding effort to revitalize the downtown area.

“The city is there to help and encourage these types of activities,” he says. “We have to make sure that they’re in an appropriate place for working with their neighbours. We can make this work; we just have to sit down and figure out how to make it work best.”