Tag Archives: Gay Moods

Full Court Press decades on in YYC

{Our sympathies go out to the friends and family of David Crosson, a lovely, witty man who passed away this week. A successful interior designer, he was also pivotal in the city’s gay media history through his work as editor of Outlooks Magazine from 1997 – 2005. He will be missed. – Kevin}

No other gay organization in Calgary has the long and storied history of the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Chinook Arch (ISCCA). A chapter in the International Court System, the ISCCA hosts many drag events throughout the year as well as their signature coronation ball which elects a new Empress and Emperor annually. ISCCA events are dependably fabulous and fun. They often are also fundraisers for important community causes.

The Court System started in 1965 in San Fransisco, and the first Canadian chapter began in Vancouver in 1971.  In the early 70s, a handful of gay friends from Calgary who were active at Club Carousel escaped to Spokane, Washington for a long weekend road trip. By chance, they encountered a drag ball hosted by the Imperial Court of Spokane. Not only did they have a terrific time, but they met other gays from all over North America who were also in attendance. The Calgarians were hooked: in the next couple of years, they travelled to other Court events in Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, and Anchorage.

Jack's vest for ISCCA post

Court organizer and First Emperor, Jack Loewen, owned a leather vest with souvenir pins from Court events he travelled to.

Organization of the Calgary court began in April 1976. An application was made to the Mother Court of Canada in Vancouver, and by June of that year, Calgary’s charter was granted. The organizers looked for local inspiration in naming their court, settling on “Chinook Arch” as an iconic Calgary phenomenon. Legally they registered themselves as a daughter group of the Scarth Street Society which also operated Club Carousel. Their first major function was the coronation ball held in January 1977 at the Holiday Inn. With a small loan of $300 from the Club, they hosted an event that made history. It was one of the most elaborate balls the Court system had seen to date, featuring a sit-down dinner and the crowning of Calgary’s first Empress Veronica Dawn and first Emperor Jack. Representatives from Courts in San Francisco, Seattle, and Alaska were in attendance.

In the first year of operations, the Calgary Court had paid back their loan and ended the year $1200 in the black. Generally speaking, any profits the Court makes from their activities are donated to worthy causes. However, in the 70s it was sometimes difficult to find charities who would accept support from the gay community. Emperor Jack, in an Outlooks interview, remembered that the children’s hospital rejected their potential donation then because it came from a gay group. In contrast, the Children’s Wish Foundation was a group who early on did accept gay monies and consequently has been a recipient of ISCCA’s philanthropy ever since.

Ziegfield

Coronation ’78 Advertisement in Gay Moods Magazine (GIRC)

In the Court’s fourth year of operations, it decided to become independent of the Scarth Street Society and go its own way. There were some communication issues between the two groups, and Club Carousel itself had come to a natural end as members migrated to the more popular commercial gay bars which had emerged in Calgary.

Like the police/pride debate of this summer, Calgary’s LGBTQ2 community has been polarized before. In 1980, the community was extremely divided on the idea of having a gay rights march as part of the national conference of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Rights Coalition which the city was hosting. A representative from the Court said to the Calgary Herald: “the minute you start flaunting yourself, you’ve got a problem [The march] is an embarrassment to the entire community.”

However, feelings changed. 11 years later at Calgary’s first Pride Parade, Calgary’s 15th Empress, Tiffany (Lawrence Steedman), led the parade in a purple beaded gown and confidently faced down protesters who spat and cursed. Tiffany said: “I’m proud to represent my community. Every drag queen wants to be empress, it’s an honour.” Member of Parliament Svend Robinson, who spoke at that event gave the nod to the Court explaining that it had been drag queens who bravely were the vanguard of the gay rights movement in North America.

Coronation 86

Coronation ’86 Poster from the Broach Magazine

Toronto writers from The Body Politic were bemused by the Court when they wrote an in-depth feature about Calgary’s gay community published in September 1980:

“The court system seems to be a purely western phenomenon, and rather bizarre to most easterners. Most gay activists, even western ones, seem slightly embarrassed by the whole thing and tend to react as if they’re being forced to talk about a tribal custom they really wish the anthropologists hadn’t discovered. [The Court] simply throws the biggest gay parties Calgary gets to see, and the intrigue behind who gets elected Emperor and Empress probably makes a run at the Calgary mayoralty seems rather tame.”

Ironically, a Toronto Court would form later in that decade holding its first coronation ball in November 1987.

Other notable Calgary Court events include Mayor Ralph Klein’s famous impromptu speech at the 5th annual coronation ball in 1981. The speech, in support of the gay community, proved ground-breaking and those in attendance gave him a three-minute standing ovation. Sadly, he recanted his sentiments in the controversy that quickly followed.

In 1989, Court members ended up in a court of the legal kind, over a tiara snatching incident. The crown was stolen as a ransom for an outstanding debt on ball gowns which allegedly was owed by the queen who had won it.  The judge eventually acquitted the five accused of stealing the headpiece “due to an honest misunderstanding.”

Empresses

Empress XIII Justine Tyme and Empress XIV Ty Morgan on the cover of AGLP.

The ISCCA also has sponsored daughter Courts into existence.  In September 1990 they were instrumental in granting a charter to Regina’s Court: the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Governing Body, Golden Wheat Sheaf Empire.

However in Calgary, perhaps the ISCCA’s biggest impact has been philanthropy. The Court took a leadership role during the AIDS crisis in Calgary, advocating for HIV prevention and conducting pivotal fundraising for AIDS research and housing of people with AIDS. Since its inception more than 40 years ago, the Court has raised and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars for causes close to their heart. Good work we can all celebrate.

{KA}

 

Before the Net: Calgary’s 70s Gay Press

The history of gay publishing in Calgary goes back virtually 50 years. In a time before the internet existed, local gay publications served as an essential medium for bringing the community together. They served as the connective tissue to Calgary’s LGBT body politic: allowing for reflection, celebration, and debate. They also were the main advertising vehicle for promoting gay businesses and services.

Some publications were decidedly modest affairs and others more professional. The Calgary Gay History Project presents this stroll through our community’s past press – part one….

Carousel Capers: The newsletter of Club Carousel – this monthly publication which ran from 1969 to at least 1975, was a hand typed and drawn, mimeographed affair. It grew to 24+ pages in its heyday with columns such as Chatter Box, and Cecil’s secrets. Club business, including attendance figures, budgets and meeting minutes were presented – keeping the Club leaders accountable to their membership.

Gay Information and Resources Calgary (GIRC), founded in 1975, was Calgary’s first peer support centre and community hub. It had a series of publications changing format, name, and page length – with the occasional hiatus – as budgets and volunteers waxed and waned. GIRC’s first newsletter published in late 1976 became “Gay Moods” in 1977. In January 1978, the publication changed to newsprint and a tabloid design, called “Gay Calgary.” As GIRC helped spearhead the formation of the Alberta Lesbian and Gay Rights Association in 1979, Gay Calgary became provincial. They published the first issue of “Gay Horizons” in December 1979 with expanded distribution to Red Deer, Edmonton, and later, Medicine Hat.

Gender Review: Canada’s first national transgender publication was started in Calgary in 1978 under the leadership of Nicholas Ghosh (now Rupert Raj). In the 70s, a handful of local doctors created a leading gender dysphoria clinic based out of the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Medicine. Providing both counselling and surgical services, the Sexuality Clinic attracted trans individuals from across the country, like Ghosh, who later moved back to Toronto in 1979. Note: transgender replaced transsexual as a more expansive umbrella term for the trans community in the 1990s.

New Wine: a publication “printed for the ‘glory of God’ by members of a Christian fellowship” reads an early editorial. The monthly newsletter of Calgary’s Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), offered the meditations of a gay-positive church, as well as news, a community calendar and church happenings from MCC congregations across the country.

Dignity Alberta: was a combined newsletter for Dignity Calgary and Dignity Edmonton. Dignity chapters represented gay Catholics across the country and the 1978 issue reported a circulation of 100.

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The Calgary Gay History Project has an incomplete collection for many of these early publications. If you have any in storage and would like to donate them to the archives (we do not mind having multiple copies), please contact us – we can even pick them up.

{KA}