For most Calgarians, the September long weekend marks the unofficial end of summer, the last long weekend before the slow descent into winter. For Calgary’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and asexual citizens, this weekend marks something entirely different: Pride. Pride parades have been a huge part of LGBTA culture and the LGBTA rights movement. They are meant to raise awareness about sexual and gender diversity, as well as shed light on social issues facing LGBTA people. While these functions are important, pride parades are also a celebration of the LGBTA community. This community, however, seems to be dwindling in Calgary.
The LGBTA community is an important part of Calgary’s culture, but what the city lacks is the prominent public presence that is found in gay ‘meccas’ like San Francisco, Toronto and Vancouver. The dwindling representation of the community can be seen in the almost complete lack of gay-oriented businesses in Calgary. In the last few years, several gay businesses have closed their doors — The most recent was the closure of The Eagle on September 2. Club Sapien and FAB Bar have also closed in the past year. As much as we would like LGBTA venues in Calgary to represent the full range of the community, they do not. Among the remaining venues — The Backlot, The Texas Lounge and Twisted Element — we have one dance club and not a single venue that caters specifically to lesbians.
What, if anything, is to blame for this decline? Part of the lack of presence could be because Alberta has become more accepting of LGBTA individuals in recent years. Though some still suffer discrimination, LGBTA people are largely welcome in Canada. The backlash Allan Hunsperger experienced in the recent Alberta provincial election for his ‘lake of fire’ comment is evidence of this, as is Premier Alison Redford’s commitment to reinstate provincial funding for sex -reassignment surgery.
To most people, it is no longer shocking to see a gay couple walking down the street holding hands or having dinner together in a restaurant. This fosters an environment where younger LGBTA people feel comfortable being themselves in predominantly straight establishments. In this way, gay bars may not be required as a ‘safe space’ for these individuals to express themselves.
Another reason for the declining presence of LGBTA venues may be that it is easier to meet people than ever before. Not everyone would feel comfortable asking out a stranger on the street, but we do have the Internet. In addition to the many gay-oriented online services available, mainstream dating sites now cater to those seeking same-sex friends and relationships.
That said, the absence of these establishments is a loss of something valuable to Calgary.
In addition to being a safe space, these bars also offered a completely different atmosphere than those found in straight establishments. No matter how gay-friendly a straight bar is, very few of them would want me to show up wearing underwear and a sailor’s hat claiming it was a Halloween costume. That’s the kind of atmosphere we lose when gay establishments close. We lose the drag shows and the gogo dancers, the underwear-clad bartenders and campy ’80s music, the leather bars, the lesbian bars and the pubs where you can get a drink named after a sexual organ. While this all sounds terribly stereotypical and is largely unrepresentative of LGBTA people as individuals, these things were, and still are, a huge part of gay culture in most places. We are losing a highly varied and interesting subculture in this city, and we should be working much harder to preserve it.