Calgary Pride Week celebrates 25 years

Members of Calgary's LGBTQ community take us back to 1990 and the city's first Pride gathering.

'One fellow brought his trio of pit bulls to frighten us,' says organizer of 1st Calgary Pride Parade

From the CBC archives: Calgary Pride's first gathering

8 years ago
Duration 1:24
Featured VideoCalgary Pride is celebrating its 33rd anniversary this weekend. Here is a look at the first gathering in 1990 from the CBC's archives.

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. 

"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.'"

Featured VideoWe look back at the history of Pride Week in Calgary with two participants who have been involved since day one.

The next year saw the first parade, which brought out roughly 400 people. But it was a different time back in 1991.

Initial fear

At the 1990 Calgary Pride rally, some LGBTQ participants wore Lone Ranger masks to hide their identity. (CBC Archives)

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.

Lone Ranger masks

A young man wears a Lone Ranger mask to conceal his identity at Calgary's first Pride Week 25 years ago. Today Tobyn Neame proudly walks in the Calgary Dyke And Trans March, which was held during the 2015 Pride festivities. (CBC Archives)

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.

Mayor Duerr proclaims gay pride week

The 1990 rally in Central Memorial Park was the first official public event for Calgary's LGBTQ community. The first Pride march was in 1991. (CBC Archives)

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."

Overcoming threats

Joey Sayer, far left, marched with his friend Michael McAdam, centre-back, in Calgary's first pride march in 1991. (Joey Sayer)

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."

Today's celebration

Nancy Miller, right, with her partner Pam Krause at the 2014 parade. (Submitted by Nancy Miller)

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.

The struggle for inclusion

8 years ago
Duration 1:26
Featured VideoHere is a look back into CBC's archives about the fight to bring a gay music festival to Calgary in the 1990s.

With files from CBC's Danielle Nerman