Sign Up for YYC Gay History Walking Tours @ Pride

Gay History is important.  We would like to give a shout out to Rich Hawkins, HuffPost Gay Voices, for his recent editorial, The Gay Community is Dying, Here’s Why it Needs to Live: a compelling explanation for why our past matters.

Calgarians understand this and came out in huge numbers for our history walking tour at Pride 2014 – but it created some logistical complications for us. Consequently, we did a rethink about our presentation and working with Pride Calgary have created an online ticketing system.  You can sign up now, on a first-come, first-served basis, for the two scheduled history walks on offer. Tickets are free (donations are welcomed), and if we fill up these walks we will consider adding more to the Pride Week schedule.

Thursday, Sept. 3rd

7:00-8:30 pm Beltline Gay History Walking Tour

Jane's Walk 1

Join the Calgary Gay History Project’s Kevin Allen on a walk through the Beltline.  We will travel to significant historical gathering spots for the gay community in this inner city neighbourhood, including Calgary’s first gay bar, from 1968, Club Carousel.  Everyone welcome. Tickets: here.

Meet:  CommunityWise (The Former Old Y) 223 12 Avenue SW

Saturday, Sept. 5th

2:00-3:30 pm Downtown Gay History Walking Tour

Downtown History WalkJoin the Calgary Gay History Project’s Kevin Allen on a walk through the city centre.  We will highlight significant political and social events that affected the gay community.  On the way we will pass by several historical watering holes where gays and lesbians gathered.  Everyone welcome. Tickets: here.

Meet:  CommunityWise (The Former Old Y) 223 12 Avenue SW

We hope you join us walking in September!

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A Not So Gay World

“What does the future hold for Canada’s homosexuals?  Will the time ever come when a gay couple can mix as freely in society as their heterosexual counterparts?”

These were questions posed in the epilogue of A Not So Gay World:
Homosexuality in Canada
 published in 1972 by McClelland and Stewart.  The book, was the first non-fiction work about homosexuality published in Canada. Tellingly the authors “Marion Foster” and “Kent Murray” were pseudonyms for the real authors, a lesbian and gay man who remain unknown throughout the text except as good friends and social commentators.

A Not So Gay World Eyes

Cover Image from: A Not So Gay World: Homosexuality in Canada

The book received scathing reviews from gay activists at the time.   Rick Bébout’s review in Canadian Reader exclaimed: “This is a work worthy of bug eyed tourists in a foreign country. The authors do well to keep their real names to themselves.”  Ed Jackson, in issue #7 of the Body Politic wrote: “what we don’t need is yet another book delineating the ‘giant shadow’ of loneliness haunting the life of the homosexual.”

However, in hindsight the book has proved to be a critical time-capsule: capturing a transition in Canadian society with a depth that few other sources can match.  A Not So Gay World explores the gay community on both sides of the 1969 ‘decriminalization of homosexuality’ in Canada.  As correctly pointed out by interviewed activist George Hislop, the Criminal Code amendments were not all that dramatic, “when in fact it never was illegal to be a homosexual.”  Yet they were hugely symbolic and greatly affected public attitudes, in a similar way that legalizing same-sex marriage has done in our generation.

One sees the clash of gay cultures between the homophile movement of the 60s and the gay liberation movement in the 70s which flowed from University campuses.  The authors clearly feel some camaraderie with the former and write nostalgically about seedy bars, outrageous characters, and just-under-the-radar shenanigans.  Ironically, these same high spirited characters and their more socially conservative peers are described as antagonists to the emerging gay liberationists.  University of Toronto gay activist Charlie Hill explains that he gets mostly indifference from the campus community, but “I think we get more hostility from gay people themselves, because we are a threat to their anonymity, their carefully structured lives.  They do not want to change because they are afraid of change.”

Canadian society did change thankfully, because of those stubbornly proud activists, and consequently we can answer Marion and Kent’s epilogue question: YES, our time has come.

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The Effect of AIDS on Calgary

AIDS created both personal and political crises in Canada and our gay communities were irrevocably changed.  Now in hindsight we are beginning to see the shape of those changes and understand their impact.  For one, it politicized the gay community dramatically – the stakes could not be higher – people were dying in a backdrop of little information and government action. For two, it brought the community closer together after years of division from fractious identity politics (read this interesting article about survivors of the AIDS crisis and the role of lesbians).  For three, the public at large could no longer ignore or fail to notice the queers amongst them.

Red ribbon

AIDS was first reported in Alberta in 1983: the first death a bisexual Calgary man in early June.  On June 30th, Alberta was the second province in Canada to declare AIDS a notifiable disease.  Grassroots organizing by Calgary’s gay community began almost immediately.  By late July, the city’s gay club owners raised and donated $10,000, to the University of Calgary to become the foundation for an AIDS research and education fund.

One year later (1984) the number of confirmed AIDS cases in Alberta had grown to six with only two men still alive – and every one was a gay or bisexual man.  For ten years the stats kept getting darker and bleaker until newly diagnosed cases peaked in 1994 at 134.  From then onwards, sex education and cocktail drug therapies started bringing the numbers and the mortality down. Calgary was the hardest hit city in the province.

The first meetings for what was to become AIDS Calgary began in September 1985.  Doug Young, a gay activist and community organizer collected papers from those early meetings, which can be found at the Glenbow Archives.  Sadly, he himself died of AIDS in 1994.

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Nationally, the recently launched AIDS Activist History Project is working to document Canadian AIDS activism in the 1980s and 1990s.  The Calgary Gay History Project will work collaboratively with the project to preserve our local stories.  As always, if you do have something to share, please contact us: here.

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