Tyson McCann Cormack, 27, a Calgary adult disability support worker, was charged with minor assault after getting into what he called a “mix-up” with two middle-aged anti-gay protesters during the Calgary Pride Parade, Jun 11.
A report in the Jun 12 Calgary Herald, alleged two men, identified as Jeff Irwin Willerton and Merle–who would not give his last name to the Herald, he said, for fear of retaliation–were holding up signs proclaiming “No Pride In Sodomy” when harsh words became physical.
McCann Cormack says he heard protesters yelling slurs as he marched in the parade with friends, and that he decided to spit near, but not on, one of the men to show he wasn’t impressed. That’s when, according to a witness account in the Herald, the man began chasing parade participants. But Merle was quoted in the same report saying that McCann Cormack came at him out of nowhere and that he never intended to taunt parade marchers.
Calgary queer activist Stephen Lock says Willerton and Merle appear in counter-demonstrations at a variety of progressive events, and doesn’t blame McCann Cormack for his actions.
“I wouldn’t fault him for what he did,” he told Xtra West. “You can only push people so far before they push back.”
Lock says the fact that Calgary’s Pride Parades have historically been free of incidents like this one speaks well for the queer community.
“Every year, we have people show up to protest Pride Parades, and every year we ignore them,” he says. “I think that speaks well for our community with respect to our tolerance for opposing views.”
“It was Calgary’s most successful Pride Parade to date and it’s really disappointing that this one little incident is putting a damper on everything, ” says Tawde Clarke, spokesperson for Pride Calgary. “The incident happened at the beginning of the parade and it’s unfortunate that people who didn’t attend the event only heard about the assault. That’s not what Pride is about.”
Clarke says Merle has demanded Pride Calgary issue a public apology for the assault by Jun 19. As of press time, that apology had not been made.
McCann Cormack hopes some good comes from the parade incident.
“If anything comes out of this, I hope it’s a stronger stance against homophobia by all members of the diverse queer community,” he said. “Freedom is never given, it’s taken.”
A court date of Jul 11 has been set for McCann Cormack. Willerton and Merle were not arrested or warned in connection with the incident.
“I hope that when dealing with homophobia we can have more positive outcomes; however, homophobia and heterosexism are violent in nature. Having spent my adult life in Calgary, I’ve taken passive reaction to the homophobia that is present everyday,” says McCann Cormack.
“These people have no place at a Pride celebration.”