The first annual North America Outgames, billed as the largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gendered sports and culture event ever held in Alberta, are underway.

The kick-off for the eight-day event in Calgary is a human rights conference called Outrights, which organizer Brad Bostock says will raise awareness of the issues facing the gay community.

"We're really excited to have the opportunity to change the perception of Calgary and highlight the fact that Calgary isn't truly the perceived redneck town," he said Monday.

"It's actually a very metropolitan centre that supports diversity and inclusivity and really celebrates all the different backgrounds that do exist within our city."

Concerts and performances are scheduled each night this week, finishing with a performance Saturday night by comedian Lily Tomlin, Bostock said.

About 500 people expected

Volunteers are conducting surveys of the roughly 500 people expected to attend.

"A lot of gay people are two-income, no-kids kind of thing with disposable income. So I think there's lots of dollars that could be spent by the gay community,"said Ross McWhirter, who was helping conduct the survey Monday.

Bostock, who had difficulty finding sponsors for the Calgary Outgames, saidthe surveycan be used by organizers of other gay and lesbian events when they're looking for corporate sponsors.

"Organizations really want to know what type of impact they're getting by attaching their brand to an event."