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Calgary Gay History Project challenges city’s cowboy image

Book aims to document 100 years of underground gay culture

If the Calgary Gay History Project’s popular historical walking tours are any indication, interest in its upcoming book on the city’s gay history should run high. Credit: Calgary Gay History Project/ Glenbow Archives

Calgary’s Gay History Project wants to document 100 years of the city’s mostly underground gay history and reshape the population’s understanding of itself.

“The project really challenges Calgary’s notion of itself — you know, the cowboy/oilman narrative that is common within the city and across the country,” says lead researcher Kevin Allen, who quit his job in June to devote himself to researching the book full-time for the next year.

The Gay History Project started with a grant from the Calgary 2012 Cultural Capital program and the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation and has now turned to a Kickstarter campaign specifically to fund the creation of a book.

“We are really driven to preserve this history because in many cases it was not properly recorded by society. It is sort of self-evident that marginalized groups in our culture do not get as much airtime or resources to record and preserve their history,” Allen says. “Our community has the interesting wrinkle that in many cases, LGBTQ people were actively destroying the evidence of their lives in earlier decades.”

People attending the project’s public presentations and historical walking tours have often been surprised and overwhelmed by the information presented, particularly the oral testimonies from older community members, Allen says.

“We have interviewed about a dozen elders who had first-person experience being a LGBTQ person in Calgary in the ’50s and ’60s,” he says. “Our first gay club, Club Carousel, had its origins in 1968, a year before homosexuality was decriminalized in Canada . . . Everett Klippert, the man whose case was responsible for that decriminalization, was a Calgarian.”

Nancy Miller, who volunteers with the project, says she was inspired to get involved after watching one of Allen’s presentations.

“The more I learned about those who laid the groundwork for our community, the more I appreciated the heart-wrenching challenges they faced and the courage they demonstrated every day,” she says. “Their efforts made it easier for me to come out in 1979, so in a way, I want to give those people some credit and ensure others understand why it still matters.”

There is already public excitement building about the book, whose release date is set for September 2015, in time for Pride Calgary’s 25th anniversary.

“At Pride a couple of weeks ago, we had over 100 participants on our downtown gay history walk — it took us three traffic-light cycles to get everyone across the street!” Allen says. “We reached our first Kickstarter goal in 15 days and are incredibly grateful.”

The Kickstarter campaign to fund the Calgary Gay History Project’s book concludes on Sept 15.