Rainbow rises: A brief timeline of Calgary’s queer evolution

Tuesday 12th, August 2014 / 19:51
By B. Simm
Kevin Allen, founder of the Calgary Queer History Project.

Kevin Allen, founder of the Calgary Queer History Project.

CALGARY — In the late ‘50s, Calgarian Everett George Klippert was charged with gross indecency and sentenced to four years for engaging in homosexual activity. He voluntary admitted to what was then a crime without seeking council as a defence. Upon his release in release in 1960, he left Calgary and moved to the Northwest Territories to avoid further harassment and any shame brought upon his family.

In 1965, the RCMP investing an arson case in the NWT brought Klippert in for questioning and when reviewing his criminal record the police, according to Klippert, pressured him to plead guilty to engaging in homosexual activity or else be charged with arson. Klippert admitted to having consensual sex with four men and was then charged with gross indecency and sentenced to three more years in jail.

Shortly thereafter, while in jail Klippert was assessed by psychiatrists as “incurably homosexual” with the Crown seeking to declare him a dangerous sexual offender.

Klippert’s case was extreme but not entirely uncommon at the time. Many men and women were criminally charged because of their sexual orientation. They endured jail terms and suffered immensely from public exposure and smear campaigns brought on by civic authorities and newspapers who reported their “crimes.”

What makes KIippert’s case unique is that it went to the Supreme Court causing both public and political outcry resulting in Bill C-150 that decriminalized homosexuality between consenting adults in 1969. The decision was underlined by Pierre Trudeau’s now famous proclamation that “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.”

Even though Klippert’s story was fundamental in helping to change the cultural and political landscape for gay Canadians, he still wasn’t released from prison until 1971. Afterwards he lived in obscurity and refused to participate in any discussions regarding the significance of his case.

Kevin Allen, a local researcher who documents an ongoing inquiry into the gay history of Calgary on his website, calgaryqueerhistory.ca, notes KIippert’s case as the starting point from when queer culture moved from dark hidden corners to coming out in full display of Pride’s rainbow colours.

BeatRoute: Klippert’s case was significant on many levels for all Canadians. Specific to Calgary, what also was important and visible, as much as gay culture dared or was allowed to be visible back then?

Kevin Allen: In the ’50s and ‘60s there was a homophile movement called the Mattachine Society out of the U.S. trying to fight the establishment. They weren’t that radical and the gist of their community was “we just want to be left alone, we just want a safe space” and to exist on the margins.

Then in the 1960s the cultural revolution came about with the Civil Rights Movement, feminism, Black Power along with individuals seeking gay rights. There was a lecture given at the University of Calgary in February 1969 by a gay activist, Harold Call, who was from San Francisco’s Mattachine chapter. He spoke to a packed house with undercover detectives in the audience. It made the newspapers here, and this is before the Stonewall happened in New York. So that’s an important date for Calgary.

BR: What about the safe spaces in the city, where did the gay community congregate?

KA: A little pub in the Palliser Hotel called the King’s Arms was a quiet watering hole in the ‘60s. And the Cecil Hotel is where lesbian baseball teams got together.

But Club Carousel was probably one of the better known places. The first location was on First Street SW (between 12th and 13th Ave.) downstairs in a basement. It began there in 1968 then moved around before it petered out in 1977. It had a long demise because it created a space and market that other for-profit clubs took advantage of such as the Parkside Continental by Memorial Park on 4th Street, and Myrt’s where the Republik now is.

The late ‘70s and early ‘80s saw a blossoming of gay spaces. Even though they were still frowned on by society, the gay community was vocal and cohesive enough and needed lots of gathering spots. Gay bars, bathhouses, bookstores and coffee shops popped up, a subculture began to flourish.

BR: Moving from safe space towards being more open and visible, what started to take place for the gay community in Calgary?

KA: During the late ‘70s and early ‘80s there was a split between the men and women. The gay liberation movement produced two narrative threats, one was equality and the other sexual freedom and liberation. Equality eventually won out, but at that time men were more interested in pursuing pleasure and women were about community.

When the AIDS crisis hit, gay activism was transformed. Human rights issues were pushed aside as energies focused on the crisis. Lesbians came through in a big way, however. Their compassion brought communities together. The plus side, the sliver lining to the crisis is that it put a human face on the suffering and a renewal in rights and coming out became a big thing.

BR: Did Calgary start to come out as well?

KA: The queer community started to find its voice. But there were a lot of culture wars in the ‘90s. Alberta Theatre Projects did Angels in America, which was very controversial. A lesbian group did this porn performance art show, Lock Up Your Daughters, at the New Gallery that got attacked by religious groups worried about family values. Art organizations are left-leaning and support all kinds of queer work, so this debate started to happen: “Should my tax dollars go towards funding I disapprove of?” Anti-censorship was a huge deal.

Before I started Fairy Tales [Queer Film Festival] in 1999, the Glenbow Museum held the first queer film festival, The Fire I’ve Become. The religious right found out and started hammering away at the museum, “How dare you do this, we’re donors.” That got government minsters commenting on it unfavourably and the media got involved. There was a lot of pressure on the Glenbow to shut it down. They held a community meeting, listened to what the art groups that showed up had to say and decided to let the festival run.

BR: How did Pride Calgary emerge from all of this?

KA: 1990 was their first event, staging a rally where people showed up with paper bags over their heads to protect their identities. Then in 1991 Al Deurr, who was then mayor, endorsed Pride Week and the first official parade but then withdrew his support when city councilors and others applied too much heat. Neo-Nazis showed up with pit bulls and religious groups waved hate signs. Of course, two decades later [Naheed] Nenshi became the first mayor to lead the parade in 2011.

For more information on the history of gay Calgary, visit calgaryqueerhistory.ca

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