Aug. 4, 2021

The Best of Calgary Pride Week Events for 2021

Kicking off the city’s annual LGBTQ2S+ celebration is UCalgary’s star-studded lineup of young Indigenous artists and intellectuals
University of Calgary at the Calgary Pride parade
Although the Calgary Pride parade will be held virtually this year, in the past many of UCalgary’s faculties and family members have participate

Some of the country’s most important Indigenous figures in poetry, literature, music, and activism will be setting the tone for Calgary’s Pride Week this month. 

Held the evening before Pride Week festivities officially commence, UCalgary’s Institute for the Humanities’ (CIH) third annual LGBTQ2S+ Lecture will feature an online panel discussion with three celebrated young Indigenous artists and intellectuals: novelist and UCalgary assistant professor Joshua Whitehead, poet Billy-Ray Belcourt, and special musical guest Shawnee Kish. 

The topic of the Aug. 26 event will be the intersection of art and activism for queer, trans and Two-Spirit Indigenous artists. “Sometimes the 2S+ gets left out when discussing LGBTQ issues,” says UCalgary English professor and CIH director, James Ellis, who points out that homophobia was among the many insidious legacies of Canada’s colonization of First Nations people. 

Prior to the formation of residential schools and the aggressive proliferation of European Christian influences, being gay, or Two-Spirit, was never stigmatized in First Nations culture, he says. In fact, Two-Spirit people in pre-colonial societies were honoured as visionaries, leaders, and healers with important spiritual responsibilities. 

Emerging Indigenous voices

“In light of the recent discoveries this summer and the importance of addressing Indigenous issues in the name of reconciliation, we thought it was particularly important to host emerging voices from the Indigenous community this year,” said Ellis. 

“It’s great to see a resurgence of Indigenous voices coming back to the arts. Our panellists this year have won some of Canada’s highest awards and are important figures in their own right.” 

The lecture certainly features a star-studded lineup: Whitehead, a Two-Spirit, Oji-nêhiyaw member of Peguis First Nation who teaches indigenous studies and English at UCalgary, won Canada Reads this year for his novel, Johnny Appleseed

Belcourt, a writer and academic from the Driftpile Cree Nation, is an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia’s creative writing program, a former Rhodes Scholar, and the youngest ever winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize. 

And Edmonton-based Two-Spirit musician Shawnee Kish has graced the stage with artists including Lady Gaga, Madonna and Alicia Keys. 

Include all marginalized communities

While the University of Calgary has been a partner of Calgary Pride since 2016, the university’s history as a forum for progressive conversations on LGBTQ rights dates back to the 1960s. But it’s only been as recently as the past five years that Pride movements have started to acknowledge the various intersectionalities under the rainbow, says Calgary Pride’s manager of production and programming, Sumit Munjal. 

“Our intent is to ensure the voices and opinions of folks from all marginalized communities, including immigrants and BIPOC, are reflected in the programming and how we engage with the community. It’s part of the overall ethos of Calgary Pride,” said Munjal, a UCalgary alum who graduated in 2019 with a degree in communications and media studies. 

Calgary Pride’s festivities, held Aug. 27 to Sept. 6 this year, typically fall outside of Pride Month, which is celebrated worldwide in June. The timing of Pride Month commemorates the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York against police persecution and harassment of LGBT Americans, which also began a movement to outlaw discriminatory practices against the community. 

“Many pride festivals in Canada are held in June and July, so moving ours to August allows people to participate and support festivals in other cities,” explained Elliot Rae Cormier, manager of development and membership at Calgary Pride. 

Ongoing journey

Timing notwithstanding, Cormier added the important distinction is that for them, Pride is an ongoing journey that takes place 365 days a year. “I am a queer and nonbinary person all year round — I won’t put that away after Sept. 6,” said Cormier. 

“When I reflect on the Pride movement, how far we’ve come, and how far we need to go, I think about a book called Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg, who wrote, ‘We thought we won the war of liberation when we embraced the word ‘gay.’” 

Cormier acknowledges the movement has made great strides when it comes to gay marriage and the fight for queer rights. “Those are monumental when you recognize there are still so many places in the world where it’s not safe to exist as a gay person, let alone queer, Two-Spirit or nonbinary,” they said. “Being grateful for how our elders in this community have paved the way forward for us while recognizing we still have a lot of work to do and room to grow is so important. 

“We need to ensure we are listening to the voices, challenges and stories of every 2SLGBTQ+ person.” 

ATB Reading with Royalty

The Calgary Public Library is hosting sit-down storytelling sessions in outdoor spaces with performers such as, from left: Nolan Neptune, library staff member Susan Statz and performer Slamda BookDown.

Neil Zimmer

Plan your Pride Week 

Admission is free to Pride Week 2021 and everyone’s invited, so check out the lineup or stream it live at here. For complete access to scheduling, including an online auction and a list of participating businesses holding their own promotions or events, download the Calgary Pride mobile app. Some highlights include: 

Aug. 6-Sept. 4 — New episodes of the Pride Cast, a podcast-style video series will be featured on their YouTube Channel every Friday at 4 p.m. Hosted by Calgary Pride’s Sumit Munjal, the Pride Cast features conversations with pioneers from the community. Lois Szabo, one of the founders of Calgary’s first gay club, will kick off the series. 

Aug. 26 at 7 p.m. — Calgary Institute for the Humanities presents their 3rd Annual LGBTQ2S+ Lecture. Register for Indigenous Art and Activism: Three Voices here.  

Aug. 28-Sept. 4 —  Sit-down storytelling with drag artists, held through the Calgary Public Library in an outdoor space. For kids aged 0-8 years and families. Register for free with your library card at the Calgary Library.

September 1-5 — The B!G ART Drive-in! will be held at Telus Spark. This series of free, ticketed events includes live performances, drive-in movies, family-friendly programming and more, all of which can be enjoyed from the safety of your own car or lawn chair . . . or streamed online at Calgary Pride.  

Sept. 5 —  Watch the Calgary Pride parade, held virtually again this year. Tune in here.