Calgary Pride Week celebrates 25 years
'One fellow brought his trio of pit bulls to frighten us,' says organizer of 1st Calgary Pride Parade
EDITOR'S NOTE: First posted in September 2015.
Back in 1990 more than 100 people from Calgary's LGBTQ community gathered in Central Memorial Park in what would later become the city's first Pride rally.
It was organized to fight fear and ignorance and would go on to become an annual event that attracts thousands of people from all over the world.
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"For us that was really the beginning of the LGBTQ rights movement in Alberta in a big way," said Nancy Miller, who was one of the original organizers.
"It was the first real gathering of people who were willing to say, 'We're not going to take this anymore.'"
The next year saw the first parade, which brought out roughly 400 people. But it was a different time back in 1991.
She said not everyone in the LGBTQ community was happy about what they were doing.
"I think there was a lot of, 'Don't rock the boat, we're doing OK — as long as nobody notices us we won't get fired from our jobs or lose the custody of our children or be kicked out of our house.'"
She said some, particularly social workers and teachers, wanted to participate but felt they would lose their jobs.
"Because they worked with children they were perceived as extra evil," she said.
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So they decided to hand out Lone Ranger masks.
"I think that that saddened us more than anything else," said Joey Sayer.
He marched in the first pride parade with his friend Michael McAdam, who is known today for his work as a popular WestJet attendant.
Back in 1990, Sayer was 24-years-old and part of Gay Youth Calgary.
"As a gay youth we weren't really particularly concerned about outing ourselves.... So we weren't so concerned about hiding our identity. So we went out there loud and proud without really realizing what we were doing," he said.
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Miller said the year they "really got loud and proud" was when they asked Mayor Al Duerr to proclaim gay pride week.
"He agreed to it, so then there was the backlash," she said. "City council was just in a flap and people were saying it was an inappropriate thing to do."
Duerr wasn't able to walk in the first parade because he was out of town, but he remembers the atmosphere.
"We got a lot of hate mail. It was very controversial at that time," he said. "It had to be done. And now, like most things, it's eventually evolved in to mainstream where it should be."
Miller said police were concerned because the group got a lot of threats, so they brought in a SWAT team to keep an eye from the roofs of nearby buildings in downtown.
"I remember not really caring about them, thinking, 'You have no power over us,'" said Sayer.
She said there was some ultra-right wing protesters who would yell and spit at them.
"One fellow brought his trio of pit bulls to frighten us," said Miller.
"I think every time someone saw the abuse that was hurled at us it just made them more determined to come back the next year."
Miller said today people of all sexual orientations bring out lawn chairs and set them out along the parade route, just like the Stampede.
And this year it will be held on the Stampede route on Ninth Avenue, since the parade has outgrown its traditional route on Stephen Avenue. It will take place on Sunday from noon to 2 p.m.
She says it's such a celebration of community, but feels they aren't done their work until everyone in the world has the freedom to love who they choose.
With files from CBC's Danielle Nerman