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YYC Queer Church History this Sunday

The Calgary Gay History Project is presenting at Knox United Church this weekend. They are celebrating 10 years as an Affirming Congregation, with an all ages dance, special worship service, music and our history presentation.

We will be exploring Calgary’s LGBTQ community’s relationship to Christianity from the 1960s to the 1980s – decades of profound social change in our city. Church leaders were dramatically varied in their responses to homosexuality, causing at times sharp divisions and existential crises within faith communities – a phenomenon we still witness happening today.

Please join us at 1 PM at Knox United Church, 506 4th St. SW. for this public presentation and check out Knox’ other weekend celebrations: here.



The Calgary Police Archives

The police and the gay community have had a conflicted past across North America for most of the 20th Century. We see this former reality resonating in 2016 as the LGBTQ community debated how police participated in Pride Parades across Canada.

Locally, the Calgary Police have been in the news due to a recently released, unflattering, 2013 internal audit of workplace culture. The Police are one of many state institutions that are grappling with societal change, and increasingly, with reconciliation for prior stigmatization of the LGBTQ community.


A research trip to Police HQ, one week after the Orlando shooting. We were surprised to see the Pride Flag flying at half mast…

A positive development, amidst this troubling news, is that the Calgary Police archives staff have been assisting the Calgary Gay History Project: combing through files looking for references to their relationship with the LGBTQ community in previous decades. The material is far from flattering.

Some samples:

In May 1946, Constable F.C. Shipley was awarded an entry in the merit book and an accelerated promotion due to catching Alfred V. Andrew in an act of gross indecency with another man at the Alexandra Hotel.  Andrew subsequently pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months hard labour.

In November 1960, the Calgary Police fired one of their own employees, Charles Pippard, because, “it would appear that Pippard suffers from homosexual tendencies, but nothing can be uncovered to confirm this.”

And in Sept 1963, an editorial in the Police’s internal magazine, Patrol, gleefully announced:

Hats off to those members of the Detective Division whose resourceful and perseverance, coupled with a new and revolutionary scientific aid to criminal investigations, closed circuit television, were successful in exposing and subsequently convicting a group of men practicing acts of gross indecency in a public washroom.

The hue and cry that heralded the use of these so called ‘Big Brother tactis’ [sic] by the force, displayed as usual a lack of awareness and understanding of this dangerous trend which prompted the use of this device.

Homosexuality and the perversion it breeds is a social problem that is always with is. When, however, such perverts meet and practice various acts of indecency in any place to which the public have access, then there is no other course open to the Police than to use every means at their disposal to safeguard innocent citizens from this type of environment and ensure that these establishments are protected from such defilement.

It is unfortunate that to gain the evidence required to subject several innocent and unsuspecting citizens using the toilets in question, to the scrutiny of television cameras while engaged in a most fundamental act of nature.  That, it has been claimed, was a gross invasion of privacy.  Surely we are not such prudes that in the interests of public decency and morality, we cannot accept a little humiliation of this kind and in doing so perhaps prevent a child or young person from becoming the victim of the insatiable lust of some of these mentally sick individuals.

It is important that society-at-large comes to terms with our LGBTQ past, and stares at it unflinchingly, to prepare a space for reconciliation.  I thank the Calgary Police for opening up its history to the Project and allowing itself to be stared at.


Corporate Calgary & Gay Rights

Back in the early 90s, I was a volunteer writer at CLUE! Magazine. One of the most challenging articles I wrote was: Private sector takes lead with same-sex spousal benefits (January 1995). The reason – I had to cold call more than a dozen of Calgary’s largest companies and ask them about their HR policies: were they gay friendly, and how did they accommodate their LGBTQ employees?


CLUE! Magazine January 1995

I remember that several HR managers were surprised by the question, and some companies registered no comment. It felt a little bit like journalism activism. Some companies were interested in discussing the idea, having never really considered it before, and others were proud to say they already offered same-sex benefits despite complications with the Federal Income Tax Act and Provincial employment legislation.

Nova Corporation led the way here in 1990, and a handful of other Calgary companies had followed their lead by 1995. It was interesting to note that even if same-sex benefits were offered, often very few employees would claim them.

The issue was a high-profile one due to Ontario’s Bill 167, the Equality Rights Statute Law Amendment Act, defeated narrowly in the summer of 1994.  Bill 167 promised to revamp adoption right, spousal employment benefits, property rights and survivor pensions for LGBTQ couples, and received national attention.

A June 1994 Angus Reid poll showed that 54% of Canadians opposed the bill – 64% in Ontario – although it was determined that the adoption rights portion of the bill was more frowned upon then same-sex employee benefits.

Corporate culture however was in turmoil, independent of public discourse, with activist gay employees taking their employers to task.  At Imperial Oil, a gay chemical engineer named David Mitges, who had been working for the company since 1980, started attending his company’s annual shareholders meeting in 1993.  For eight sequential years he asked Imperial to offer same-sex benefits, despite the booing and harassment from the audience present.  The national press described Mitges’ protracted tussle as “David vs. the Energy Goliath.”  In 2000, Imperial capitulated and began offering same-sex benefits, which by that time had become more normative in corporate culture.

Coming full circle this week, the Pride Employee network of Imperial, invited The Calgary Gay History Project to their corporate headquarters to talk about the city’s gay history. About 40 employees came to a lunch-hour presentation at which the company’s management concluded with their expressed commitment to diversity at Imperial.


Greg Cashin and Lisa Fahey of Imperial’s Pride Employee Network with Calgary Gay History Project’s Kevin Allen (centre).