2 min

Queer Calgary is changing and growing

Calgary isn’t the cowtown you remember it to be

Marchers at the 2015 Calgary Pride parade. Credit: Courtesy Kelly Hofer

The city of Calgary plays host to one of Canada’s fastest growing pride celebrations, with upwards of 60,000 spectators expected to line the streets at the Sept 4 parade.

This might be a surprise to some who still perceive Calgary as not much more than a cowtown, and certainly not an especially queer-friendly city. While Calgary still has its problems for many in the LGBT community, it does seem that things are improving, thanks to some committed activists.

We spoke to one of those activists, James Demers, the executive director of Fairy Tales Presentation Society which hosts an annual queer film festival in Calgary.

“I have never attended a Calgary Pride in which I was not involved or a direct organizer in some way,” Demers told Daily Xtra by email. As a bisexual trans man, he sees his involvement in Pride as his duty “as a community member and activist.”

This year’s parade grand marshal is award-winning writer, musician and filmmaker Rae Spoon, who recently spoke to Daily Xtra  about their own experience growing up queer and trans in Calgary.

Many queer people, including Rae Spoon, moved away from Calgary to what are perceived to be more established queer communities like Vancouver and Toronto.

“I think everyone at some point questions dedication to a small and conservative community,” Demers observes. “I actively chose to stay in Calgary, and by extension Alberta, because the most work is needed here and progress is seen rapidly here if you are patient.”

Demers considers a visible queer artistic presence to be a significant factor in establishing and maintaining queer community. “Visibility is a continual battle, and the critique of all forms of media and its representation is vital to keep the community moving forward,” he says. It’s also healthy for the community’s evolution to have challenges and disagreements, Demers adds. “A community which does not evolve will fail to thrive.”

In addition to serving on the Calgary Pride board, Demers is a member of The Fake Mustache Drag King Troupe, and has been involved in numerous other community organizations, including working with the Miscellaneous Youth Network board for nine years. When possible and appropriate, Demers says he supports  the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the local Society for the Advocacy of Safer Spaces (SASS) work happening with Calgary venues, noting that intersectionality is “incredibly appropriate for activists to keep in mind as part of their work.”

More than 125 community groups, corporations, politicians, churches and public service organizations will take part in the Pride parade as it snakes through the heart of downtown Calgary.

Naheed Nenshi, who is expected to attend, was the first mayor in the city’s history to participate in the the parade as grand marshal in 2011. In 2012, Alison Redford became the first Alberta premier to attend.

These are signs that things seem to be changing in Calgary, a city that boasts a queer film festival, a range of alternative Pride marches, and its very own queer theatre company, Third Street, which recently hosted YOUth Riot, a 12-week program for queer youth to explore  playwriting to help tell their stories. Queer youth in Calgary and beyond can also attend the University of Alberta’s Camp fYrefly,  Canada’s only national leadership retreat for queer youth.

Although there’s still a lot of work to be done to foster a strong, cohesive LGBT community in Calgary, change is afoot. Pride week offers a chance for that community to come together.