By the late 70s, Calgary’s gay community was fairly established and extensive. If you boldly came out of the closet as a gay activist then, you would find a network of organizations and businesses to both support you and your work. Seeking approval from the straight community was decidedly out of fashion and gay separation was a recurrent theme in GIRC’s Gay Calgary newspaper.
In April 1979, the Alberta Lesbian and Gay Rights Association (ALGRA) was founded with representation from the Province’s biggest cities: Calgary, Edmonton, and Red Deer. Rural outreach was a priority goal for ALGRA and Calgary gays found themselves on missions in Southern Alberta to connect with rural gays as well as to coax them out of the closet.
However, “Medicine Hat had a few shocks in store for three Calgarians who are gay and accustomed to being ‘out’,” wrote Charlotte Rochon, in the December 1979 issue of Gay Horizons.
Not only did they have a hard time trying to find a distribution prospect for their newspaper – the newsstand proprietor called Gay Horizons, “that shit,” but also the purported gay meeting place in the Hat didn’t really exist.
Fortunately, the intrepid Calgarians had a local contact whom they met for tea. It turned out that there was a covert network of gays and lesbians who might be coaxed out that evening for dinner.
Rochon wrote: “Dinner turned out to be quite encouraging after an afternoon of frustrations. Two of the contacts who came turned out to be part of the elusive underground: lesbians and gay men who do indeed have a group that meets regularly in one Medicine Hat bar that does not intimidate them. Dinner was a celebration of gays coming together”
As the evening progressed, the Calgarians were less than thrilled when they were requested to play it straight: no same-sex dancing or displays of affection. As they grumblingly cooperated – “the closet is despicable” – they acknowledged that coming out in Medicine Hat might prove to be a riskier, and less anonymous, venture than coming out in Calgary.
They also concluded that the existence of the gay underground in Medicine Hat was a great sign – the beginning of a gay liberation movement in the Southern Alberta city.
The expedition informed Rochon’s politics. In a separate editorial, she wrote:
The gay movement should divert [its] energies away from lobbying heterosexual institutions in order to concentrate on the development of its own community.
Such a move has the potential to give our gay community the strength its members need to really ‘come out’ to be neither offensive or defensive, to simply be gay, content, beautiful, as we know ourselves to be.
The implications of community building are clear: as we grow stronger, more of us will be openly gay, more people will know us, larger and larger segments of society will come to appreciate us…. Familiarity breeds consent.
*”Earning toasters” refers to the social conservative notion of gays recruiting straights into their filthy lifestyle. The gay community turned the notion into a joke as in, “one more recruit and I will have earned a toaster”: a primordial reward points plan.
Postscript: Brooks turned out to be a more tolerant town; their newsstand accepted Gay Horizons on the Calgarians’ road trip adventure tour.