The Transition of Calgary Pride
by Eva Kurilova
The first Calgary Pride I attended was in 2007. I was 16, in high school, newly out, and newly coupled with my first (and still my one and only) girlfriend. We attended the parade together, excited at the opportunity to be openly affectionate, which was not something we felt comfortable doing out in public in any other context.
It was a beautiful June day, the parade was short and sweet, and while there were plenty of spectators but we didn’t feel overly crowded. The parade ended at Olympic Plaza, and it was a blast to dance and splash around in the water.
There were some cute stalls selling all sorts of rainbow goodies and buttons with phrases like “I’m not a lesbian but my girlfriend is.” We both purchased a few of these buttons and pinned them to our bags. I remember, embarrassingly, wearing them on my hoodie the next school year.
I also bought myself a large pride flag (the original, six-striped rainbow version), which hung on my wall for the next several years and which I still have stored away somewhere. Finding a large flag was my main goal, as I was so eager and excited to be out and proud. It was nice to be in a place and among people where I could feel comfortable being myself and not expect strange or inquisitive looks for holding my girlfriend’s hand.
One of the most memorable parts of the day, for me, was the parade float of the Fake Mustache Drag King Troupe. Not only did the drag kings stand out in a sea of drag queens and shirtless men, but I recognized a girl who went to my high school.
She was a year older than me and known as the only (out) lesbian in the entire school, which was one of the largest high schools in the city. I don’t know if she had ever actually officially come out, but she was quite butch and the only girl in the mechanics class, so everyone just referred to her as “the lesbian.” One of the reasons I was hesitant to come out myself was for the fear that I would be known as the only other lesbian. However, seeing her there and being among other out and proud people made it easier for me to do so.
The Fake Mustache Drag King Troupe was a staple of Calgary Pride Parades. It was there when I attended the parade again in 2008, which again ended at Olympic Plaza. It was reported that the parade drew around 4,000 spectators that year, despite rainy weather.
In 2009, Calgary Pride Week was moved to September in hopes of better conditions. That year, I happened to get a picture at the Famous Five Monument of the five women who initiated the Persons Case, which established that women could be appointed to the Canadian senate.
Despite moving the parade to September for nicer weather, Calgary Pride 2010 was a rainy affair and crowds were sparse. It was fun to watch the parade go by, but I didn’t care to stick around for the afterparty. Now in university and out to everyone, I no longer felt that the pride parade was the only place where I could be myself.
I missed the parade over the next few years, though I could see that each one was a little more corporatized and had more political parties, politicians, and political candidates taking part. Some people don’t like the corporatization of pride but, at the time, I didn’t mind. It was a sign that we were becoming more mainstream and accepted, which was also part of the reason I didn’t feel the need to go every year. Pride seemed worthwhile when I was working up the courage to be myself. It didn’t seem necessary as I felt more comfortable and accepted in the wider world.
The next time I attended a Calgary Pride Parade was in 2014. This time, the parade finished at Shaw Millennium Park, a move made in 2011 to accommodate the swelling crowds. Thousands of people watched the parade and flooded into the park afterward for the Pride Calgary Festival, which included a stage for entertainment and speeches. The day felt like an excuse to have a big party—and there was nothing wrong with that—but attending certainly no longer seemed like an act of bravery.
At one point during the festivities, the ever-present Calgary Fake Mustache Drag King Troupe took to the stage, only this time, their facial hair didn’t look fake. Soon enough, the dancers took off their shirts to reveal very recent double mastectomy scars, some of them still bandaged. The audience was applauding as I realized that one of the dancers was the lesbian from high school.
I was conflicted. This was long before I started questioning gender identity ideology and I felt like the “right” thing to do was to celebrate these women. And I won’t lie—part of me genuinely did. I thought they must be expressing their true selves. At the time, I was also trying to pull myself out of a deep depression. Part of the reason I had gone to Pride after so many years was to get out of the house and get out of my head. Something about seeing these women ostensibly finding a path in life that made them feel happy, fulfilled, and whole was very appealing to me. I recognize now that a lot of this movement’s power comes from its ability to create these feelings in people struggling with their mental health.
Still, I knew deep down that something was not quite right. Later that day, I looked up the Calgary Fake Mustache Drag King Troupe website. It turned out that almost every member was going through a transition. That gave me pause, and it was my first exposure to the social contagion aspect of transition, especially among young women.
The next time I attended the Calgary Pride Parade was in 2017. That year, the after-parade festivities had outgrown their old grounds and were moved to Prince’s Island Park. Downtown Calgary was packed. Global News reported that 5,000 people marched in the parade itself, while 65,000 people watched.
One thing I distinctly remember about that day was a young man across the street wearing a dress—which wasn’t particularly strange for Pride, but he caught my eye because he looked incredibly giddy about it. I tried to muster up thoughts about how brave and cool it was, but eventually, I thought, “why? He’s just a guy in a dress.”
It was a hot day, and I didn’t love the crowds. I snapped a photo of the Aurora Cannabis float in the now completely corporatized parade and left shortly after.
Somehow, it took me almost two more years to fully snap out of it and realize that the growing gender identity movement I had been seeing slowly creeping up Calgary Pride and in the wider world was at odds with an understanding and respect for my sexuality (as well as with women’s rights and the safety of children).
Snap out of it I finally did, and I’d be hard-pressed to attend another pride parade. It isn’t mine and my partner’s scene anymore. In fact, if we were to make it known that we define ourselves as exclusively same-sex attracted, we would be swiftly accused of transphobia by the mainstream “queer” movement that Pride now represents. Sexual attraction is no longer based on sex but on gender identity, and a lesbian refusing to include men who identify as women in her dating pool is swiftly excommunicated from the 2SLGBTQIA+ “community.”
We prefer to dress fancy and drink Prosecco rather than to cover ourselves in rainbows (on very special occasions, at least).
Speaking of rainbows, the classic gay pride flag is quickly going out of style anyway. Photos from Calgary Pride 2022, the first in-person pride held since the start of the pandemic, show that the hottest accessory was the progress flag. In fact, a contingent of Calgary teachers marched with a giant version of the eyesore this year.
This is no surprise, of course. The Alberta Teacher’s Association is fully on-board with the SOGI 1 2 3 program, which teaches kids that they might need to change their bodies if their behaviours, likes, and interests don’t match stereotypes about boys and girls. The program is funded in large part by a charitable organization that also funds a children’s gender clinic.
Also present at this year’s pride, like always, were a host of corporations, including Enmax, Shaw, Coca-Cola, Telus, and Air Canada. I now see the corporatization of pride in a different light—not as a beacon of mainstream acceptance but as a sign that the pride parade and queer movement have coalesced into one single acceptable branded package that doesn’t include you if you don’t buy it all.
Many politicians danced down the street as well, including former Premier and leader of the NDP Rachel Notley and Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek. LiveWire Calgary reported well over 100,000 people in attendance.
Also in attendance was MLA Janis Irwin, who calls herself “ML Gay.” In speaking to LiveWire, Irwin lamented that, “there’s been a rise in hate, and particularly transphobia.” She continued: “It’s not lost on me that it was just a couple of days ago that one of the people who wants to be the leader of the UCP is openly spouting transphobic views.”
What Irwin was referring to is a campaign email sent by UCP (United Conservative Party) leadership candidate Brian Jean where he expressed that sports should have two categories: one for men and one for women.
It seems to be lost on Irwin that she just attended a parade which a huge portion of the city came out to support and which major corporate and political powers were eager to participate in. But that isn’t enough. Nothing but complete and total capitulation to gender identity ideology is enough. Even common-sense ideas about the need to maintain sex-segregated sports are seen as hateful today.
That is why pride has lost me and many other gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. It used to be a celebration of who you love. Now, it’s a stock-take of who obeys. Taking pride in loving someone else is beautiful. Taking pride in forcing others to accept self-declared identities that contradict reality is not.
Twelve years after my photo at the Famous Five, I was back at the monument protesting the fact that Canada now places men, even men serving time for sexually violent offenses, into women’s prisons on the basis of “gender identity.” Unconscionable policies such as this have been brought forward under the guise of “LGBT inclusion,” but they are not for me or people like me, and I won’t let it be done in my name.
Pride and the entire gay movement have morphed into something unrecognizable since I came out and started attending the parade. My desire for people to live free from ideological control places me squarely opposed to what is now a totalizing movement that dictates how people should speak and think—and I couldn’t be more proud.
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