Calgary Pride kicks off 30th year with gamut of COVID-aware events & programming

With a mandate to celebrate resilience, love and community, it seems fitting that not even a pandemic can stop the Calgary Pride Festival from marching into its 30th year.

The festivities kicked off Friday, and will go ahead in a big way — albeit re-imagined, and COVID-aware — until Sept. 6.

“Pride is a celebration of the contributions and the challenges still faced by the gender and sexually diverse,” said Parker Chapple, the executive director of Calgary Pride. 

“It’s an opportunity for people to connect, to be visible, to know that they matter, that they’re important. And it fosters connectivity and community — which I think that we all need right now.”

According to Shone Thistle, the volunteer board president with Calgary Pride, cancelling the celebration due to COVID-19 simply wasn’t an option for the organization.

“When everything happened in March, and things started to shut down, I don’t think we even considered not having a festival,” Thistle said on the Calgary Eyeopener Friday.

“What we knew was that we would need to adapt.”

Adapt is exactly what the organizers, administrators and volunteers did.

Online and outdoors

Calgarians will be able to celebrate Pride this year with a virtual parade, online workshops, pop-up shops, food truck drive-thrus, drive-in movies, art installations and performances by 300 LGBTQ2S+ artists that will be streamed for free.

“We’re so excited,” Thistle said. “There’s all kinds of stuff.”

The agenda for Calgary Pride in 2020 was shaped, in part, by three initiatives, Thistle said.

The parade that usually winds through downtown Calgary has been moved online, and will feature 15 hours of virtual programming that will allow greater accessibility for Albertans who wish to take part outside of Calgary.

The Calgary Pride Parade is going to look a lot different in 2020 than it has in previous years. It will be live-streaming on Sept. 6 and will feature 15 hours of programming. (Rachel Maclean/CBC)

#OurPride is an initiative that involves physically distanced gatherings and fundraisers in collaboration with local businesses such as Broken City Social Club, Bridgette Bar and CJSW.

The Calgary Pride Learning Series has offered a gamut of free workshops throughout the summer that will continue into Pride week and beyond.

The workshops cover over 56 themes, including trans and non-binary history, Indigenous issues and de-colonization, anti-racism, and how to slay with your makeup.

“Pride, at its very core, is very intersectional,” Chapple said.

“There’s a lot of diversity in our community, so any time that we have an opportunity to bring more than one voice to the table, we’re reflecting the core values and roots of what Pride is about.”

Art installation celebrates intersectionality

The diversity within the gender and sexually diverse community is also being represented with four temporary art mural installations that were unveiled Friday at the four corner entrances to Central Memorial Park.

The project is called the Pride Marches On art walk. It’s a partnership between Calgary Pride, Calgary Arts Development, the City of Calgary and Shaw.

The murals were created by LGBTQ2S+ and BIPOC artists to express their interpretation of Pride, and with a different scope of lived experience, Chapple said.

“It’s an important measure in telling the story of our community, and making it accessible.”

Shaw supported each artist with $2,500 to create their art installation. 

Colin Menzies, left, and Wilmer Aburto, right, worked together on a temporary art installation that was unveiled Aug. 28, the first day of Calgary Pride, at Central Memorial Park. (Fuat Seker/CBC)

Wilmer Aburto, an artist and photographer who worked on a mural with artist Colin Menzies, told CBC News that he wanted to create a narrative that celebrates cultural and sexual diversity as iconic. 

And part of what makes the art installations so powerful, he said, is the visibility they allow for the community.

“Creating new stories … that people can connect with — I think it’s very crucial, and also something very meaningful,” Aburto said.

“My hope is that people will come and connect with this work. And I’m just very grateful to have been able to be part of it, because I think, when I came to Canada as a young nine-year-old kid from Nicaragua, I wasn’t necessarily seeing work that I related to in art. And this, to me, is that.”

Wilmer Aburto told CBC News that with his mural, he wanted to create a narrative that celebrates cultural and sexual diversity as iconic.  (Fuat Seker/CBC)

Come a long way

All of the visibility and dynamic programming illustrate how far Calgary Pride — and the city — have come in 30 years.

In 1990, the threat of backlash was so present for those attending Calgary’s first Pride that the public art installations, initiatives and community engagement of today was not possible, Thistle said.

“If we go back to the beginning, we’re talking about in some cases dozens, then shortly after maybe a couple hundred people that would gather for barbecues and for marches along 17th Avenue,” Thistle said.

“Many were very hesitant to participate, and people received backlash in their personal lives, at work and things like that, if they were seen participating in pride — which is not the case today.”

On Friday morning, the Alberta government raised the rainbow flag at McDougall Centre. It has done this every year since 2016 to celebrate Pride. (Fuat Seker/CBC)

In 2020, Calgary is home to one of the fastest-growing Pride Festivals in Canada.

Last year, it was the fourth-largest in the country.

On Friday morning, the Alberta government raised the rainbow flag at the McDougall Centre in Calgary, as it has done every year to celebrate Pride since 2016.

It’s an overwhelmingly positive celebration, Chapple said, and it’s for everyone.

But the work isn’t done.

“I think that we’ve seen so much growth and evolution in becoming a more welcoming city, but there’s still lots to do,” Chapple said. 

“Pride is a time when we really encourage folks to foster a sense of learning in themselves, and in their loved ones, so that we can continue to … work better together.”

The festival program can be perused in its entirety online, and those wanting to take part can also personalize their own Pride calendars with Google and Apple apps.


With files from Fuat Seker and the Calgary Eyeopener.

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