Facing escalating threats, Calgary LGBTQ activist says community remains resilient
Pendulum of queer history swinging back to hate, says Kevin Allen
A tweet from a prominent LGBTQ bar in Calgary highlights the latest in a series of ongoing threats against the community in recent weeks.
Twisted Element, a nightlife establishment in the city's Beltline neighbourhood, said it received a phone call that shows the community "has faced escalating fascism."
Tonight we received a phone call saying “if you 🚬’s come near my kids, I’ll burn your f*cking bar down.”<br><br>Our community has faced escalating fascism while our elected officials do absolutely nothing. <a href="https://twitter.com/JyotiGondek?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@JyotiGondek</a> what’s your plan?—@TwistedElement
That call comes after months of protests and threats of violence against Calgary's LGBTQ community, which have been raising safety concerns.
Drag performances and drag-hosted events have been the main target of weekly opposition and have drawn attention from Calgary's mayor, who recently threatened to fine protesters after a drag event was cancelled during the annual Chinook Blast Festival in February.
Activists from the community, however, say this is nothing new.
Kevin Allen, the research lead of the Calgary Gay History project and the author of Our Past Matters, Stories of Gay Calgary, says there is always a pendulum that swings back and forth with human rights struggles.
"I think we're proving this is a period where we're swinging toward hate again," Allen said.
A history of protest
On Friday, the Calgary Public Library postponed Reading with Royalty — its drag story time event, citing an unsafe environment for children due to protestors.
Protesters have previously attempted to disrupt similar events, accusing organizers of "exposing" children to "adult themes."
Allen says using this messaging has happened in Calgary, and Alberta's, history.
In the 1970s, Anita Bryant, a well known anti-gay activist spearheaded a movement around the same theme, calling it "Save the Children."
Allen says when Bryant brought the campaign to Edmonton, Calgary-based activist Windi Earthworm travelled to the provincial capital to protest.
Earthworm chained himself to the stage that Bryant was performing on and was shouting at her as an act of protest against her message. Allen said that it was similar to what's been happening recently.
"It was the exact same thing [saying] these people aren't safe to be around children and they need to be, you know, contained," he said.
"This 'protecting children' is just a proxy for saying 'we don't like queer people.'"
In the mid 80s, to mid 90s and early 2000s, it was not uncommon to be physically attacked entering or exiting a gay bar in Calgary or Alberta, according to James Demers, a transgender man and long-time activist.
He says the recent escalation of protests is an issue, but it is nothing new to the community.
"Right around 2003 to 2005, in particular in Edmonton, there were a bunch of incidents where people were shooting at the windows of gay bars with paintballs," Demers said.
"The truth is that's sort of always been part of the experience of being queer and our choice to come out and to become visible was a way of addressing that."
He added that the continuous efforts to protest against drag events only to have the shows continue is a testament to the resilience of drag performers.
"Sometimes the most powerful thing you can do is laugh at power with the tools they choose to use to oppress you and drag is exactly that." Demers said.
Despite the resilience, he says more needs to be done by those in office to protect people from such threats.
Demers — who also produces the Fake Mustache Drag King Troupe — says there are things allies can do, such as write letters to the city and public library or use social media to support public library reading programs.
"Queer people are part of the world and they are part of life and that's never going to change or go away," he said.
"This is what's left so we can deal with this. We've done it before we can do it again."
Allen echoed that sentiment, saying he hopes these recent acts will be looked back on as a last gasp of homophobia.
"The death knell of homophobia and transphobia in the arc of history if we're looking back at it not only in five years but in another 50 years," he said.
With files from Jade Markus