'Back with a bang': Calgary Pride Week kicks off at iconic location

Calgary Pride Week officially kicked off Saturday with performances, drag events and celebration of the city’s LGBT community.

All events in-person for the first time since 2019

Calgary Pride celebrations were back in person for the first time since 2019. (Marc-Antoine Leblanc/CBC)

It was a day full of festivities as Calgary Pride Week officially kicked off on Saturday with performances, drag events and celebrations of the city's LGBT community. 

The events of the day got going at 11 a.m. at Central Memorial Park in the city's Beltline neighbourhood.

Brit Nickerson, manager of communications for Calgary Pride, says the location has special significance. It's where the first Calgary Pride rally was held in 1990.

"So it's a very important space for the queer community," Nickerson said. 

"I'm very excited, not only as a queer person myself, but as the one who's organizing quite a few of the events. It's so wonderful to see everything kind of coming to fruition and to see everyone so excited to celebrate Pride this year."

Pride festivities run from Aug. 26 to Sept. 5. The group's flagship event — the Calgary Pride parade and festival — happens Sept. 4.

Indigi-Hauz at the Evolution Wonderlounge Extravaganza in Edmonton last November. From left to right, Desiré, Ladonna, Gemma, Etherea, Glue, Dana, Luna, Jacqueline, Cedar and Gurlquishaa. (Red Socks Photography)

The Fairmont Palliser hosted an evening of Indigenous Drag Queen performances on Friday. It featured two-spirit performers from the Indigi-Hauz of Beaver Hills (Edmonton's Cree name), which is a collective fusing traditional drag with Indigenous tradition.

"We're building our own platform and sharing it with other Indigenous artists to be able to share who we are as a people through storytelling and gender expression," said Boyd Whiskeyjack, who performs as Cedar T, in an interview on the Calgary Eyeopener.

"I think it's a two-way street also for the LGBT community to combat racism within our own Indigenous nations … like transphobia and homophobia."

The collective will also perform at Calgary Pride's main stage on Sept. 4. 

"You're basically going to experience an extravaganza of different flavours of charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent from each performer," Whiskeyjack said.

Tens-of-thousands lined Sixth Avenue in downtown Calgary for the 2019 Calgary Pride Parade. (Helen Pike/CBC)

'I feel like I belong here'

Rayne Fireman and their father, Derek Fireman, attended Saturday's event for the first time together. 

"It feels amazing. I I feel like I belong here. This is how I can be myself," said Rayne.

For their father, it's a learning experience, and a way to support his child, and understand more about the community.

"It's important to breakdown the stereotypes, to start making the changes, realizing that there's things that are said five years ago, 10 years ago didn't mean anything and coming to that realization of no, that's that's hate, that's hurtful, have to change that," he said. 

'Our hearts are full of love'

Pride organizers said they're excited to have the LGBT community back together in-person as most events since 2019 had to be scaled back due to the pandemic.

"The past two years have been tough for everyone … this is the time we come together and celebrate," said Sumit Munjal, manager of production and programming with Calgary Pride. 

"This year, we are coming back. We're coming back with a bang." 

Munjal is in charge of the reading with royalty event that kicks off the day's events Saturday, which is a family-friendly storytime program led by three drag performers. 

Attendees will also be able to visit booths, vendors and food trucks. The day ends with a movie in the park, which Munjal says does contain some mature themes. 

We speak with one of the Indigenous drag queens who performs tonight to launch this year's Pride Festival.

Of course, Munjal says he's looking forward to next weekend's parade, as well as the "Love is Love" one mile run that precedes it.

"No matter what you're doing, you can engage and make it fun and gay it up," he said.

"My message to the community is our intent is in the right place and our hearts are full of love."

With files from Nathan Godfrey, Chris dela Torre, Marc-Antoine Leblanc, Omar Sherif