With less than a week to go before Calgary Pride, the organizer of the event and the owner of the biggest gay business in the city are locked in an ugly fight.
“This isn’t what Pride is supposed to be all about,” says Sam Casselman, president of Calgary Pride’s volunteer board.
“I’m not the bully they’re making me out to be,” counters RJ Fafard, owner of Calgary’s largest gay dance club, Twisted Element.
A few days ago, the Calgary Pride committee sent a letter to all its sponsors, warning them that Fafard was spreading “misinformation” about this weekend’s events. According to Casselman, Fafard called at least two of the sponsors, the Calgary Sexual Health Centre and Energy FM. Neither sponsor returned Xtra.ca’s calls for an interview.
Fafard says he called them to complain that Calgary Pride posters were littering his club’s parking lot. Casselman says the committee steered clear of his property.
Casselman points to Fafard’s recent Facebook updates as evidence that he’s spreading “misinformation.”
One of Fafard’s updates says, “Welcome to Calgary’s first Straight Pride. Has anyone wondered why there are no gay sponsors?” Casselman claims that Fafard has also been taking the stage at his business to spread the same message to clubgoers.
Out of the 12 sponsors listed on Calgary Pride’s website, four are gay-owned businesses, one is a non-profit organization and one is a labour union.
Fafard says that Twisted Element won’t be entering a float in this Sunday’s parade and names several other gay-owned businesses that won’t be, either. Casselman confirms that they include Outlooks magazine, Priape men’s wear, the Texas Lounge and the Backlot, but says she still expects more than 30 floats.
Another dispute between Casselman and Fafard stems from the location of this Saturday night’s Calgary Pride fundraising party. Called Ignite, it’s taking place at Belgo, a large club that’s owned and operated by Penny Lane Entertainment Group, a company that operates many straight bars in the city. Casselman says Penny Lane is keeping all the drink sales while the Pride committee pockets the $20 cover charge.
Fafard says gay and lesbian Pride-goers shouldn’t raise money at a straight space. “I believe that gay money should be spent at gay places when possible,” he says. “It makes us stronger.”
According to Casselman, “Pride is about everybody — gay, straight and everyone in between.”
“We desperately need this event in order to put on the Pride parade and the street festival,” says Casselman, adding that if all 1,000 tickets are sold, the committee will make $20,000.
Furthermore, she says the only gay-owned venue in Calgary big enough for the Pride fundraiser is Fafard’s club, but he won’t help the committee. When she introduced herself to him several months ago and asked for his help, she says he refused. “The reception I got from him was very cold and rude.”
Fafard says he’s never met Casselman. “We were never approached to do anything,” he says. He claims the Pride committee is not registered and not “a legitimate corporation.”
Casselman rejects the claims. “I can send you the paperwork,” she says. “We’re a non-profit with the Alberta seal of approval. We’re totally open. We have nothing to hide. If he would talk to us he would know all this.”
Xtra.ca confirmed through an Alberta Registries agent that the Pride Calgary Planning Committee was registered as an incorporated society in Mar 2009.
Casselman feels she has no choice but to go public about her dispute with Fafard. “I tried to resolve it professionally and amicably,” she says. “Now we need to be vocal and talk about this and get it out in the open.”
“I’m one of the nicest guys,” says Fafard, “but the bitterness has got to the point where I feel like leaving.” He says he is considering selling his nightclub.
“Nobody wants him to leave,” says Casselman. “I just want him to stop bashing Pride. This is really sad for the community.”