Tag Archives: AIDS Calgary

2016 Hero Awards – Nancy & Richard

{My husband Gordon is part of the Calgary Chinook Lesbian and Gay Endowment Fund. Every year they give a deserving member of the local LGBTQ community a hero award – this year they gave two! Here is his recent speech addressed to the 2016 recipients, Nancy Miller and Richard Gregory. A standing ovation ensued. Gordon also has a history blog called Edwardian Fernie; check it out if you are interested in period architecture, culture and gardens! – Kevin}

“Where were you in 1988, when the first pride workshops were being held in Calgary, or in 1990, the year of the pride rally and where were you again in 1991 the year of Calgary’s first pride parade.

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Nancy Miller and Richard Gregory in 2015

If you were our Hero Award recipients, Nancy Miller and Richard Gregory, you were activists on the front lines of the gay rights movement in Calgary and you were leaders in organizing the rallies as well as the parades and not giving an inch to politicians and citizens who wanted to treat gay and lesbian Albertans like they didn’t exist; or if they did, like they were a lower order of citizen who were not entitled to equal rights. And not having equal rights meant you could be fired from your job, evicted from an apartment, refused custody of your children, refused service in restaurants and not ensured safety and protection when you walked down the street.

It was for many of us, like me, a time when our ability to pass, and our privilege, protected us from the vagaries of the police and their state sanctioned bullying of the LGBT community. It was a time when AIDS deaths were reaching record highs in Calgary, and the city’s response was ever greater hysteria and paranoia as well as hostility towards the gay community particularly in the form of violent gay bashings. After all what were baseball bats for? Many in the gay community were afraid and were even hostile towards activists.

I quote Nancy, who in a Metro interview acknowledged:

“I have to admit there were lots of people within our own LGBTQ community who were not happy with us. They didn’t want us to be drawing attention to the community. They had found ways to survive without rocking the boat too much and they were comfortable and felt safe there. They were afraid we were going to open a whole can of worms. Which of course we did.”

Nancy and Richard did not take the safe or comfortable route, though they might have, instead, they got busy organizing the lesbian and gay community so that finally by the 1990’s Calgary’s activists were working hard to establish gay rights through the Pride moniker. Some of you will remember that a pride rally or parade in the early 90’s was not the feel good happy events attended by tens of thousands like today. The organizers and participants, who numbered in the hundreds, were literally facing the prospect of physical violence from police and anti-LGBT homophobes as well as the risk of possibly losing their jobs, their homes and their families. It is no wonder that some opted to wear lone ranger masks or paper bags!

Our Heroes, Nancy and Richard, were not only involved with fighting for our rights through the idea of Pride, they were involved with CLAGPAG, the Calgary Lesbian and Gay Political Action Guild, an organization which is where we find the roots of Pride. This was merely one aspect of CLAGPAG and their activism. They were involved in the struggle for gay and human rights on many levels, including the Delwin Vriend legal battle. But it was not only with the big battles that our award recipients made a difference, it was the many smaller day to day skirmishes that also moved forward the struggle for our rights.

I found copies of the Calgary Herald in the early 90’s in which Nancy was out and proud and asserting the right to equality. The journalist wrote, “that Nancy Miller isn’t crazy about interviews, but she speaks up for the record anyway – for a couple of reasons. For one thing, she believes clear, honest, open dialogue is the only way to promote understanding.  For another, she doesn’t have a thing to lose.”

“She’s not afraid she’ll be fired for telling the world she’s lesbian.” She was not afraid to insist that, “We in the LGBT community contribute a lot to the city that goes totally unseen and recognized.” You have to remember by that time Nancy had reason to be afraid for she had been discharged from the Canadian Military for being a lesbian and had also had the courage to refuse to cooperate in the naming of lesbians and gay men in a military investigation.

For four decades, Nancy Miller has been advocating for social justice, human rights and reproductive choice. In addition to being involved with CLAGPAG, she has been an organizer of Take Back the Night marches, served as a board member for the Calgary and Alberta Status of Women Action Committees, Women Looking Forward, The Lesbian Information Line (co-founder), Planned Parenthood Alberta and the Calgary Sexual Health Centre (formerly CBCA). A proud feminist, today Nancy provides strategic communications, writing and video production services to progressive candidates, non-profits and small businesses.

Like Nancy, Richard Gregory was not only critical to developing Pride he was, in addition to being a leader at CLAGPAG, an Aids Calgary volunteer as well as board member, and in 1989 organized the Aids Quilt project’s visit to Calgary.

In 1995 he ran for council in ward 8 as the first out gay man in Calgary to run for political office. He was at that time also chair of the advisory committee of the social services program at Mount Royal College.

During those years he was also a committee member of the OXFAM-Canada Human Rights Initiative Project and worked for the Boys and Girls Club of Calgary.  Today he is the president of Alberta College of Social Workers Council. And is the department chair of the health and human services program at Medicine Hat College.

I want to close with something which Richard Gregory wrote for CLUE Magazine in 1994. He reported in the month of October that he went to an open house held by MLA Mark Hlady of Calgary Mountainview, given that there weren’t many people in attendance he spent a half an hour with a clearly extremely homophobic MLA, who even believed Alberta should opt out of the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms in order to avoid giving the LGBT community equal rights.

Richard quizzed him about his understanding of the charter, of the bible, its connection to human rights, the rights of LGBT citizens. I could only think the MLA must have been very happy when someone else finally showed up to take their turn. That month he also attended a conference on human rights in Alberta, and I will quote his take away message from the conference:

“I suggest we go to town hall meetings, confront them in their own territory, be really clear on what we want. There is no time like the present to demand equal rights in this province. Each voice must stand and be heard. I guarantee that if only half the gays and lesbians and members of the transgender communities in Alberta wrote a letter to the Premier – rights would be extended to us. Many people state they are not political – this is not about being political – it is about being equal and being treated as such. Don’t expect someone else to do it.”

Richard Gregory and Nancy Miller did not expect someone else to do it, they did it, and are still doing it and we are all the better for it and that is why they are our Heroes. Please join me in paying tribute to this amazing duo – they make us proud!”

{GS}

 

RuPaul & AIDS in 1996

Twenty years ago, RuPaul was the headliner for Calgary Cares ’96, a benefit for AIDS Calgary. It was the fourth benefit of its kind in the city and raised approximately $50,000 for the agency.

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RuPaul at Calgary Cares ’96. Photo: Shelagh Anderson (QC Magazine, July 1996)

RuPaul had then just been discovered by mainstream audiences, with the 1993 music video hit, Supermodel (You Better Work), and the groundbreaking model contract in 1995 with MAC cosmetics’ Viva Glam Couture Colour Collection. 100% of the proceeds from that collection were donated to the fight agains AIDS. In 1996, that amounted to a $5 million contribution which has grown to over $400 million today.

In the summer of 1996, Calgary was averaging about 10 new cases of HIV diagnoses a month and had the fourth highest incidence rate of HIV infection amongst Canadian cities (after Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver).

RuPaul suffered some flight delays, but after travelling 32 hours to get to Calgary made a late appearance, singing “Dude looks like a lady” for hundreds in attendance, and then hosted an impromptu press conference afterwards with local press.

Calgary Herald copy-editor Terri Inigo-Jones asked a few days later if RuPaul was not “a symbol for the best hopes for humanity’s future.”

In a June 19th, op-ed piece titled Lack of caring spawns new dark ages, the copy-editor characterized the mid-nineties as a downward slide towards the end of civilization. Despairing over neoliberal gains in the public sphere, and a perceived intolerance and pettiness in society, the author found hope in Calgary Cares:

Fortunately, modern equivalents of the early European monasteries may exist and, once again, humanity’s best qualities and best hope for the future may lie on the fringes.

Attending the fourth annual Calgary Cares fund-raising event for AIDS Calgary recently, it struck me that the true moral fibre of which society is so proud is at its strongest beyond mainstream thinking.

The event had a community feeling. About 1,300 people attended and many of them would not find acceptance in the mainstream. Every year, elected officials are invited to the event but none have accepted.

It was unconditional love that drove the 10-person organizing committee to put in 3,000 hours of volunteer labor before the show and that made hundreds of others help out on the night itself. Their efforts are expected to raise $25,000 for people in need. There was not a whisper of whether or not they could afford it or should do it. The only thought was that it must be done.

RuPaul was the star guest of the evening at the Max Bell Arena. A seven-foot, cross-dressing black man in a red patent leather bustier and thigh-high boots and a blonde wig as a symbol for the best hopes for humanity’s future?

Deal with it, folks. Our hope as a society and as a species lies in our unconditional concern and compassion for our fellow men, women and children and in our tolerance for diversity.

After all, without diversity society cannot evolve and without evolution there is no future.

It was in that summer that a corner was turned in the fight against AIDS. In July 1996, the success of new anti-HIV drugs, called protease inhibitors, were announced at the International AIDS conference in Vancouver. Almost immediately the death toll from the disease in Calgary came to a virtual halt.

{KA}

Homos on the Range

{Calgary Gay History Project’s Tereasa Maillie is working on a memorable history event – one night only – Friday, December 4th at Loft 112 – read the press release below and we hope you can join us – Kevin}

Supposedly, lightning never strikes twice in the same spot. But after 21 years apart, Calgary actors Barry Thorson and Steve Gin are challenging that notion.

In 1994, Thorson and Gin self-produced Harry Rintoul’s searing AIDS drama Brave Hearts, set atypically in the back yard of a party in Saskatoon. Equally uncharacteristic for the time were the play’s blue collar characters: a bitter, closeted seismologist and an openly gay ranch hand.

“At the time, AIDS was still a white-collar crime,” reflects Gin, who played the wise-cracking, Glen

Campbell-loving ranch hand GW. “Most of the AIDS dramas at that time were about well-to-do White gay men who lived in New York, San Francisco or Fire Island. AIDS – let along gay men – were still an invisible presence on the prairies.”

“These (characters) are people that an Alberta or a prairie audience identify with readily and understand,” adds Thorson. “They’re so down-to-earth, which I think is very appealing.”

On the evening of December 4 as part of events honoring World AIDS Day, Brave Hearts receives a staged reading at Calgary’s Loft 112 in Calgary’s East Village, with Thorson and Gin back in the saddle as GW and Rafe. A panel discussion follows, with representatives from the Calgary Gay History Project, HIV Community Link and Chromatic Theatre participating.

Brave Hearts first opened at Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in 1991 at a time when a diagnosis of AIDS was still considered a death sentence for many. Three years later, the prognosis wasn’t much better when the play premiered in Calgary at The Pumphouse Theatres. The actors rehearsed at the AIDS Calgary offices, and resource personnel from the organization facilitated talkbacks after each performance. Critical response to the production was positive, with the Calgary Herald proclaiming it “an act of courage.”

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“AIDS claimed a lot of the people we got to know through that show,” remembers Gin. “But others we came to know, especially the ones who were just recently diagnosed, are still here. They’re fine. And that’s so encouraging.”

So why revisit the show two decades later?

First and foremost, it’s a great script, garnering a Dora Mavor Moore Award nomination in its Toronto production. And for both actors in the Calgary production, there’s a feeling that people need to be reminded of the impact of AIDS in the community, especially the younger generation of gay youth who never witnessed its devastation first-hand.

Gin went on to helm Teatro Berdache, which ran professional productions in Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal from 2000 to 2008. This year, it re-emerged as an interdisciplinary arts facilitator, running the successful Warhol-inspired Factory 112 series at Loft 112.

“We’re definitely older and greyer than we were in 1994,” laughs Gin. “And there’s no damn way we could ever pull this off onstage, ‘cause the characters are 26 and 31. “

“But so much of this play is about loneliness, and the need to reconnect. And I think that’s gonna resonate even more now, especially when the audience has a chance to talk about it with us afterward in the intimate space of the reading.”

Factory 112: Lonesome Cowboys & Brave Hearts runs for one night only at #112, 535 – 8th Avenue SE on Friday, December 4, 2015. Doors open at 7 pm with a 7:30 pm start. Admission is by donation, with all proceeds going to support HIV Community Link. Find the Facebook Event: here.