Drag performers took to the ice of Henry Viney Arena on Saturday for Drag on Ice, a performance and celebration of the LGBTQ2S+ community that was originally set to be held during Chinook Blast in February.
That performance, originally scheduled for Olympic Plaza, was cancelled after threats from anti-drag protesters made the safety of performers and attendees impossible to ensure.
Chinook Blast organizers maintained that the performances would go on even as the festival wrapped up, and that was a promise fulfilled on April 1 with a sold out crowd. Albeit, with the heavy presence of multiple layers of security staff, and Calgary police and bylaw officers.
“I’m just really proud that Calgary is the type of place where if you have a little setback, you just get up and do it a little bit differently and it works out,” said Mayor Jyoti Gondek.
“I mean, people are having a great time here, it’s great performances, the crowd is loving it, and it’s a great place to be on a Saturday, enjoying some drag on ice.”
All-ages drag performances with music by DJ Gaysnakes were intermixed with public skating, and dress-up photo booths.
Karla Marx, one of the organizers for the event, said that she was thrilled that the city stepped up in a major way to make the postponed event happen.
“The support was unequivocal, it was consistent, and even before the other event that was postponed was supposed to schedule, we were already working on this event,” Marx said.
“It’s been a real outpouring of support, from the city, from the parks facilities here, and then also Chinook Blast—everyone was determined it was going to happen.”
Franca Gualtieri, who ended her term as Executive Director of Chinook Blast following the festival, attended Saturday’s show.
She said that Chinook Blast was a part of the catalysts for a renewed interest in the city’s drag performances.
“Even though we had to go through the road of disappointment, if it did bring awareness and is going to make change in our city, I couldn’t be happier about that,” Gualtieri said.
Drag artform important to queer community
In the wake of near constant protests against drag events, including brunches, shows, and library literacy events, organizers from the drag community organized performances across the city at a dozen venues in support of the art form.
Marx said that holding events like Drag on Ice and others was important to the queer community.
“We’re seeing a lot of events targeted, particularly ones like this that are all ages, that are just designed to show all of you—not just queer youth—that it’s OK to be who you are, that people will accept you, and you can do that in this city,” Marx said.
In typical drag fashion, Marx even poked fun at herself after having the art of drag talked up by Calgary Arts Development CEO Patti Pon during the introductory speeches for the afternoon’s performances.
“I was just called essential. I’m a fancy clown that dances at bars,” she laughed.
“[Drag] is fun because it is a wonderful queer art form, and there are so many queer art forms but we are a very highly visible one right now.
“It is important for us to act as ambassadors for queerness, to promote it, and promote acceptance. And this opportunity is allowing us to do that, and it is shining a light on the fact that Calgary has changed and Calgary is taking steps forward.”
Pon said that Karla designed the show to be family friendly for all ages.
“Wven as we speak, there’s a public skate going on where we encourage folks to come out bring their skates. So Karla and her team knew that and she geared the show to a family friendly crowd and audience, just like all artists do.”
Drag on Ice one of dozens of events for Drag Day of Solidarity
In a statement provided to LWC on Drag Day of Solidarity on behalf of the organizers, they said that organizing the day was a call for support for the queer community—not just in Calgary, but globally.
“The queer community is being heavily targeted in Calgary. Today we gather together across the city to draw awareness to these pressing issues. This is so important as we approach another election,” the statement read.
“It is to fight back against the laws being passed against transgender people, especially in the United States.”
Much of the misinformation and slurs against drag performers, and the LGBTQ2S+ community that have driven anti-drag and anti-transgender legislation have been repeated at Calgary protests.
“It’s not just our city, we’re seeing this globally. There’s this sort of extreme polarity where people when they don’t like something just take it up to a level that is unacceptable,” said Mayor Gondek.
“I think we’re at a moment in time where we can come back from this and still be a strong society, but it’s gonna take some work.”
She said that she hopes that by the time Chinook Blast returns in 2024, the divisiveness and protests subside enough to allow an outdoor show at Olympic Plaza to occur.
“There’s a very optimistic part of me that thinks that it’s gonna take a lot of work from a lot of people who are reasonable and kind and compassionate to get us back to that place,” Mayor Gondek said.
Gualtieri said that she too would love to see the show return to Olympic Plaza, but that safety would always be the number one concern for the show going forward.
“I would never want anybody to be unsafe. I hope one day, and if next year is the year to happen, I’d love to see it at the centre of our city where everybody can enjoy it and have a great time at Olympic Plaza,” she said.