Tens of thousands of spectators, and a parade with more entries than the Calgary Stampede, and a sound rejection of months of ongoing hate against the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, made up 2023’s Calgary Pride.
The parade, which has grown to be Calgary’s second largest, drew larger crowds than the 2022 edition—alongside more marchers, and more entries at 220 for this year versus 160 from the previous.
“This is one of the most important moments where Calgarians can come together, especially given the political climate worldwide,” said Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott.
Walcott, alongside his council colleagues including Councillor Terry Wong, who represents the downtown core, and Couns. Sonya Sharp, Kourtney Penner, Gian-Carlo Carra, Raj Dhaliwal, and Mayor Jyoti Gondek.
One of the poignant symbols of standing up for 2SLGBTQIA+ rights came in the form of members of the community wearing pink wings at the head of the parade.
The wings were first used by Shepard’s Friends to block out messages of hate by the Westboro Baptist Church during the murder trial of Matthew Shepard, an openly gay man, in 1998.
Calgarians donned the wings earlier this year at Calgary Public Library locations where messages of hate were being presented against attendees at drag story times.
Mayor Gondek said that everyone’s rights are stronger when the politics of a small minority that wishes to tear those rights apart is rejected.
“[Pride] is a good indication that the world is actually quite accepting, very inclusive and embracing of diversity. There are a small minority of people who are very loud and out there on social media, talking about things that are not factual and just stirring the pot on something that we decided a long time ago was not an issue,” the mayor said.
“Inclusivity matters. Everyone’s rights matter and we are better and stronger as a community if we stick together and we’re not going to let a bunch of loud voices tear that apart.”
Most, but not all political parties have representatives at Calgary Pride
Among the other politicians and political parties that attended were the Alberta NDP Caucus along with their leader Rachel Notley and prominent gay MLA Janis Irwin, the Liberal Party of Canada, and Calgary-Centre MP Greg McLean who marched without indication of his party affiliation.
Absent were members of Alberta’s current United Conservative Party government, which has been repeatedly denied by Calgary Pride for the past half-decade to march in the parade.
Entrants in the parade are required to complete a questionnaire about their position on 2SLGBTQIA+ issues and provide examples of how they have taken action on those.
Notley said that she didn’t want the UCP’s lack of representation to continue to be an issue of division.
“We have seen them peddle in dog-whistle attacks on certain members of the LGBTQ community, and I think that until that is met with by those people being told to leave and by policies that fully support members of the community, then then I think that they have work to do,” she said.
“I want this to be an issue where everybody is doing that work.”
Members of the UCP have attended other pride events this year, including Minister of Arts, Culture and Status of Women Tanya Fir at Lethbridge Pride.
Numerous agencies, organizations, and companies also marched in the parade including the City of Calgary, Alberta Health Services, and Parks Canada.
Priority for Calgary Councillors to attend this year
Coun. Dhaliwal said that although he could not attend last year’s parade, the political climate surrounding 2SLGBTQIA+ rights made it an unmissable priority for this year.
“The rhetoric I have heard, some of the incidents that we have seen in the last year, it inspires me to make sure that I’m here this year. Because collectively as policymakers, we need to stand and say ‘you know what, this is not acceptable. This needs to stop,'” Dhaliwal said.
Calgary, like other North American cities, has held dozens of anti-drag, anti-transgender, and anti-LGBTQ2S+ protests. The severity of some of these protests that caused safety concerns for visitors to public facilities, led to Calgary City Council passing the Safe and Inclusive Bylaw earlier this year.
Coun. Walcott said that the tens of thousands of people who showed up to celebrate pride was a rejection of the ideology behind those protests.
He said that it was very important for City Council to attend, and to be seen at the Pride Parade.
“I think that’s one of the most important things we can do because we know that most of the attacks are actually coming from the political realm and filtering down. If politicians don’t live their principles of inclusion and diversity and show up to spaces like this, to embrace it, to thrive in it and to celebrate it, then I think it’s just talk,” Walcott said.
That was a sentiment echoed by Mayor Jyoti Gondek, who said that the 2SLGBTQIA+ community needs that support now.
“Allyship isn’t enough, advocacy matters, and being together with people when we have to stand up against the kind of hate that we’re seeing, this community cannot do it alone,” she said.
“This community, the 2SLGBTQIA community has stood with anybody that has fought for human rights, and now it’s time that we stand with them as well.”
Photos from the 2023 Calgary Pride Parade
Correction: An original caption said that Pride Parade marshals Adora Nwofor and Cece Chow were marching in the parade as anti-racist activists in support of the LGBTQ2S+ community. The caption has been updated to reflect they were marching in the parade as marshals and as members of the LGBTQ2S+ community. We regret the error.