Calgary Pride has Rejected its Roots

The news came down earlier this week that Calgary Pride was not going to allow any political Party to march in the Parade this September. Due to some internal issues, Edmonton cancelled their Pride Parade this year. The resulting commentary suggests something is up in Alberta.

Calgary’s first Pride Parade was held in 1990 with some protesters wearing face coverings or actual bags on their heads to safeguard their identities. 1990 doesn’t seem that long ago in the grand scheme of things. The event was a protest against discrimination based on sexual orientation, an unfortunate reality for members of the community at the time. Personally, I attended the last two as an ally and member of a political Party.

It took 16 years before a sitting Mayor marched in Pride; Stephen Mandel in 2005, and 22 years before a sitting Premier in Alberta would march; Premier Alison Redford in 2012.  By 2012, parade attendance had grown from a handful of people to thousands. Over the years, Pride became the place to be for corporate interests and politicians, allies and community members. But it was not only the place to be, it was the place to be seen,

And seen they were. Being in Pride was a badge of honour that not only showed support for the Pride community but also offered a major opportunity to advertise. In a way, Pride became less about Pride and more about marketing. The reaction to this year’s Rainbow packaging blow out in the United States confirmed the power of Pride’s reach – but some declared it was no longer about supporting the community – sort of like how Christmas has lost its roots in its commercialization.

As more members of the Pride community increased their involvement over the years, it became clear that not all members were enjoying the benefits of community awareness. Members of the policing community were asked to stop marching in uniform. Members of the military were also included in the discussion. Dissenters, and even some supporters of the community, couldn’t reconcile the exclusion as inclusion decisions Pride boards were making.

Over the last four years in Alberta, Pride welcomed one of their most ardent allies, Rachel Notley as Premier of Alberta, leader of the New Democrat Party. And it was a celebration. Images of the Premier decked out in rainbow everything, laughing and dancing in the streets graced the front page of every major newspaper. But it wasn’t all about Pride. As more than one person noted, during the Premier’s welcome speech after the parade, she talked about pipelines and her commitment to seeing them built. While that may be a long shot at a defining moment, it merely demonstrates the benefits that providing a platform at Pride offered. Few would say that Rachel Notley was not an ally to the Pride community solely because of that speech but without a doubt, it had absolutely nothing to do with Pride.

Meanwhile, the United Conservative Party who formed a mere two years ago this month, had each of their applications to march in Pride rejected by both Edmonton and Calgary Pride since 2017. While it is rumoured that the UCP has dedicated members who are part of the LGBTQ2S+ community, Party policy reflected animosity to the community and the leader, Jason Kenney, has a long, cruel history of working against the community that he has never reflected upon with any semblance of compassion, let alone understanding or sincere regret. He is now the Premier of Alberta, duly elected by democratic means on April 16, 2019 (though one can have their doubts about the means that put him there beforehand); and the Party once again applied to march, only a month after replacing legislation that assured privacy protections for LGBT students in Alberta kindergarten to grade 12 schools.

Certainly, the previous example of Rachel Notley using a Pride platform to speak to non-Pride-specific concerns could have been a catalyst in reviewing the participation of political Parties. The fact that Pride has become a useful marketing tool for business could have been a catalyst. Or maybe the catalyst was that a political Party who talks the talk but walks hand-in-hand with opposition to human rights for the LGBTQ2S+ community is now leading Alberta’s government. Or maybe it was all of the above.

Calgary Pride has not provided comment on the exclusion and there could be good reasons for that. I think, however, that they have lost sight of the protest that Pride is based on; not that I blame them.

Imagine, if you could, having fought for recognition, acceptance, and equality – to receive that from a majority of people and then risk losing the progress you’ve made because your neighbours, co-workers, and family voted in lock step with those who would take away your rights and placed the only Party who wanted to do that in charge of legislating your rights. Who put your advocate in the unenviable position of having to deny a sitting government from marching.

Unenviable, yes; and exactly the catalyst that saw a few brave souls take to the streets to fight. Yes, Pride has become a celebration for many. It has become a celebration of those who no longer have to hide their faces to march and the tens of thousands of people who show up to support them.

But there are still Albertans who have to hide their identity in their place of work. There are still people who have to hide their orientation from their family. We have a government who will happily continue to legislate for a minority of people who want those people to stay hidden.

I understand that the LGBTQ2S+ community has many victories to celebrate but there has never been a better reason, nor a better time, to return to the roots of Pride – it was a protest against inequality; inequality that still exists for community members. It is a threat to each person who still cannot be themselves for fear of retribution. And each of us who joined in on the celebration while not acknowledging that fact can shoulder part of the blame.

The Calgary Pride Board took the easy way out by denying all political parties the ability to march with them. It is an incredible disservice to all people who are still in the unenviable position of having to hide who they truly are in Alberta today but also, sadly, tomorrow.

This post contains both fact and opinion.

Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean


Twitter: @Mitchell_AB for all the commentary; @thisweekinAB for posts.

But something changed this year.