Tag Archives: CJSW

Labels in YYC: do you like Queer?

The second episode of Calgary Rainbow Radio premiered this week. It is an interesting discussion about labels and the complications in how we identify in our community. Here is the transcript of our contribution to the show on the history of labels:

Hello. My name is Kevin Allen and I am the research lead of the Calgary Gay History Project.   When I initially conceived of the name of the project, I called it the Calgary Queer History Project and had printed posters and postcards to that effect. I personally like the word queer, and use it often. I came out in 1990 at the age of 19, when AIDS activism and queer nation was in the ascendant. The slogan “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” still resonates with me today. Yet in my first few oral history interviews with community elders, I discovered that “queer” is still a living pejorative for them. To honour their contributions to the project I shifted the name of our work to the Calgary Gay History Project.


Photo: from Zine, “Queers Read This: published anonymously by queers”

Terminology in the LGBTQ2S+ community is steadily evolving and there have been many transitions in terms over the decades. For example, I was surprised to learn that some women once considered the term lesbian an uppity feminist word in the mid-20th Century. These individuals maintained that they were gay women and not lesbians. In fact, Canada’s very first national lesbian conference, held in Toronto in 1973, ended up being called the Gay Women’s Festival. Ellen Woodsworth, one of the organizers, explained:

“Some of us really wanted to call it the Lesbian Conference or Lesbian Women’s Conference or something, but it was clearly going to be a barrier to others – either those who self-identified as gay or those who weren’t sure, or those who were really in the gay movement. We wanted everybody to feel safe to come.”


Woodsworth quote and poster image from Liz Millward’s book “Making a Scene: Lesbians Community Across Canada 1964-84.”

The word gay itself came into common usage to mean homosexual only in the 20th Century, although it likely had earlier usage antecedents. It was first uttered in this context in a famous Hollywood film in 1938, called Bringing Up Baby starring Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. There is a scene in the film, in which Cary Grant’s character’s clothes have been sent to the cleaners, and he is forced to wear a woman’s feather-trimmed robe. When another character asks about his robe, he responds: “Because I just went gay all of a sudden!” This reference to cross-dressing (and, by extension, homosexuality) was unfamiliar to most filmgoers. The line can also be interpreted then as, “I just decided to do something frivolous,” but it was a coded reference to the rather large gay community working in Hollywood at the time.

California was also the birthplace of the homophile movement in the 1950s, a sort of polite, pleading for tolerance effort, that early gay activists employed. Homophile societies seeded themselves across North America. The two most prominent: the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis were both code names for homosexual men and women respectfully.

Amusingly, Harry Hay one of the Mattachine founders reported that in the 1930s and 1940s, gay people referred to themselves as temperamental – which I am really fond of now in 2017.


Harry Hay in 1937. Photo: LeRoy Robbins from the Bay Area Reporter

The word homosexual itself is a manufactured word and a mash-up of Greek and Latin roots. Its first known appearance in print is found in an 1869 German pamphlet called “143 des Preussischen Strafgesetzbuchs” written by Karl-Maria Kertbeny. He published it anonymously. His pamphlet advocated the repeal of Prussia’s sodomy laws. Kertbeny had previously used the word in a private letter written in 1868 to Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, a writer and forefather of the modern gay rights movement. Kertbeny used homosexual in place of Ulrichs’ term Uranian, which was the term he invented for his so-called third sex: men who had female brains and women who had male ones.

And of course, we are just scratching the surface of terminology past and present for queers, including names we call each other and those which are used against us. There are literally dozens of slang words. A sampling includes; dyke, faggot, molly, tommy, poof, pansy, Mary, limp-wristed, friend of Dorothy, butch, Kiki, muff diver, pillow biter, fairy, fruit and sod.

Like queer, perhaps it is time to reclaim some of them.

For myself, if I am looking for a change, I sort of like the ring of the Calgary Temperamental History Project.


CJSW’s Queer Programming: Old & New

This week saw the launch of Calgary’s newest queer radio show on the FM dial: Calgary Rainbow Radio. The Calgary Gay History Project is actively involved in the collective making the show. Our first piece is about CJSW’s own queer history.  Here is the transcript.


CJSW 90.9 FM has been a beacon of alternative, and independent voices on Calgary airwaves since its inception. It also has a proud queer history. Over the past 25 years, you might have heard the classic “First Dyke on Dynasty,” segments on lesbian life, features on butt plugs, and the often used tagline “Just us, and not always them.”

The first queer show on CJSW was Speak Sebastian. It premiered on September 5, 1990. Niall O’Rourke, the show’s founder said then “the gay community is now confident enough to stand up and be counted.” In an interview with the Calgary Herald, he said he hoped both gays and straights would be interested in the subjects Speak Sebastian tackled during its regular Wednesday 9 – 10 p.m. time-slot.

The program was set up like many radio lifestyle shows, with regular features and panels discussing various subjects: for example, the risks faced by professionals who “come out.” Its mandate, however, was to examine the question of how the homosexual community could grow “in a so- called ‘straight’ world.” Early shows addressed controversial issues like “outing,” popular with gay activist groups then. Outing is when a person or news source publicly revealed the homosexuality of a well-known figure, who had been keeping it under wraps.

Niall said, “Though many homosexuals are private about their preferences, the people directly and regularly involved in Speak Sebastian are not able to use pseudonyms. If you’re not ready to go on the record, you’re not ready to be on the show.”

Niall came to CJSW five years earlier through hosting a classical music show called Excursions. Though he enjoyed working on Excursions, Niall said: “The more mature I get, the more I find myself bringing my background, my homosexuality, into my work.”

One of the program’s regular features was a monthly segment of AIDS information and updates produced by AIDS Calgary.

The Show proved to be popular and co-host Michele Sharp soon joined Niall as well as other segment volunteers. Giving everybody an equal voice was the goal. Niall and Michele would go through the show programs in advance and try to give equal time to male and female issues.

Michele said: “I think Niall got blown away by me at the beginning because I was like this radical feminist dyke who was going to bowl them over and make sure women got a voice. But then I realized he was on my side and I didn’t have to slap him down or make him stay in line; he tried to keep everything on an even keel between the two of us.”

Speak Sebastian expanded in 1991 to produce a live community awards show. The first Speak Sebastian Awards happened in June of that year as part of Pride Week.  Awards were given to community members in seven categories which were:

  • Man of the Year
  • Woman of the Year
  • Award of Distinction
  • Community Service Award
  • Humanitarian Award
  • Business of the Year
  • Sportsperson of the Year

In 1992, Niall and Michelle moved on, passing the show on to the queer radio collective that had formed. The new hosts that year were Stephen Lock and Cate Vail, who were both heavily involved in Calgary’s gay and lesbian support organizations, Gay Lines and Lesbian Information Lines (respectively).

The Speak Sebastian awards had three iterations, ending in 1993. Organizers ran out of steam to keep it, and the radio show, both going. This was also the period in Calgary of peak AIDS deaths in the community, another source of stress.

In the fall of 1994, two volunteers in the Speak Sebastian collective, Gene Rodman and Craig Lewington, started to experience creative differences with Stephen and Cate. Gene and Craig approached CJSW and asked if they could start another queer show, and they were granted one by the station. Calling it Freedom FM they began to alternate Wednesdays with Speak Sebastian.

Freedom FM’s concept was a high energy, fast-paced show with lots of audience participation. They tried to present a positive view of Calgary’s queer community and to focus on the community’s altruism. Gene and Craig felt they had many closeted listeners who needed an informative, non-judgemental show to coax them into the community. They had many innovative segments including the Queerstion of the day, Gay Jeopardy, and a radio soap opera called Tomorrow’s End. Freedom FM also experimented with live remote broadcasts from gay bars and coffee shops.


CJSW Queer Community Broadcasters from left to right: Gene Rodman, Michelle Wong, and Stephen Lock.  This photo appeared on the cover of the June 12, 1997 edition of FFWD Magazine.

In 1997, a group of four enterprising lesbians launched Dykes on Mikes adding a third queer show to CJSW programming. The original collective consisted of Michelle Wong, Vicki LaLonde, Corinne Cornish and Kam Wong. Their show aired the first Tuesday of the month at 8 PM, and the four stayed together until the year 2000 when new hosts were added to the collective Morag Misselbrook and Nico Hofferd.

For many years into the 21st century, all three programs kept running. Freedom FM had a name change to Urban Sex and a new host Angus Goodkey. Dykes on Mikes had host Christine Brownell in 2003 and eventually morphed into the contemporary feminist CJSW show Yeah, What She Said.

Queer programming on CJSW has a proud history, asserting a space for us on the FM dial. The transmission was heard well outside the city limits and on multiple occasions in the Calgary Gay history Project’s work we have heard from individuals who said those CJSW programs saved their lives, by letting them know they were not alone. When these people did not have the courage to live open lives, they were consoled by knowing that queer voices existed every week in Calgary on their radio dial.


We Are Back!

Kevin Allen is now (almost) finished with the federal election so look forward to weekly posts from the research collective until the end of the year.

Lots has happened in the last couple of months.  Catch Kevin’s interview on Yeah, What She Said, Calgary’s only feminist radio program, airing every 3rd Monday each month on CJSW 90.9FM.  Ironically, the pre-recorded interview aired on election day, Monday October 19th!

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Tereasa, and partner Dan, in Ottawa on Parliament Hill. Gosh that statue looks familiar…

Tereasa Maillie represented us in Ottawa, October 15-17, at Canada’s Annual History Forum. She also had tea with the Governor General at Rideau Hall after attending the Governor General’s History Awards.  The Calgary Gay History Project was invited because of its honourable mention for excellence in community history programming.

National Trust

The 2015 National Trust Conference Gay History Tour. We are in front of the Cecil Hotel – what, the sign is gone…  Photo: Harry Saunders @harry_historian

Heritage Canada’s 2015 National Trust Conference was held in Calgary.  We were invited to give a downtown gay history walking tour to delegates from all over the country.  The tour on October 22nd was well received by a particularly enthusiastic crowd.