Vincent Penny lives day-to-day as a woman, but Sunday, at the annual Gay Pride Parade, was the first time he went out in public in Calgary in full drag.
"It’s a little unsettling. It’s my first time being in full drag in the city. It’s good for me, good for the people and good to be out here," said the 25-year-old man wearing makeup, a pink tank top and dark skirt with his hair pulled back in a ponytail.
Penny was among an estimated 6,000 people who attended the festivities at this year’s parade, the 20th anniversary of the event.
Two decades ago, about 20 people walked through downtown Calgary trying to raise awareness about gay and lesbian rights –most of them masked to protect their identities.
Sunday, there were 40 parade entrants and 400 individuals who proudly walked, rode or drove down 8th Avenue before ending up at Olympic Plaza for a giant dance party that lasted into the afternoon and saw two civic politicians– Aldermen Joe Ceci and Druh Farrell–grooving on the stage. The festivities officially kicked off after several dignitaries addressed the crowd, including police Chief Rick Hanson, whose comments that his force will not tolerate intolerance was met with resounding applause.
"We’ve had a huge response this year–it’s been great," said Gay Pride organizer Dallas Barnes.
Barnes said this year’s parade had 10 more entrants than last year and included a diverse group of non-profits and community organizations, as well as individuals, an indication that Calgary is more accepting than it used to be of those who live alternative lifestyles.
"Today, I’m finding Calgary is a lot more welcoming. I think people are understanding that it’s not necessarily just a gay thing, we’re not just in our own little groups–we’re everywhere. It’s a community event . . . it’s celebrating diversity," added Barnes.
However, people like Penny say there’s still a lot of work to be done to raise awareness and tolerance.
He said he doesn’t usually feel safe walking Calgary’s streets in women’s clothing. He also complained that last week he faced discrimination while trying to give blood.
Penny said he and fiancee Christina Calder, 19, were turned away by Canadian Blood Services because Penny positively answered a question on a form that he’d had sex with another man since 1977.
"I answered yes, because I’m living a transgendered lifestyle and we were turned away, both of us, even though we’re not sleeping together until marriage," said Penny, adding he’s regularly tested for HIV and has a clean bill of health.
Calder said she was ready to give a blood donation when she was suddenly pulled into a backroom.
"Everything was good to go. They had all the equipment ready, but when they found out I was with him, they . . . Said sorry, that I couldn’t donate because I was with him," said Calder.
"It raises the question, is transgenderism and gayness in the city still tolerable? Because if they’re still discriminating against us because of our sexual orientation, there needs to be awareness about that," added Penny, who’s organizing a rally outside the agency’s downtown headquarters for Tuesday at 1 p. M.
"To discriminate based on that is ridiculous. They could hold the blood and test it. There are other options. It hurt."
Longtime Calgarian Ken Erickson, 36, said that Calgary is considerably more tolerant today than it was two decades ago when the first parade was held.
Erickson has attended every parade since 1991 and said it has evolved from a political event into a party.
"Today, it’s much more of a celebration and family event," said Erickson, who has been "out" since he was 17.
"There’s a lot of support in the city . . . (but) there’s still a lot of homophobia. I think we have to stand up to it."
By Suzanne Wilton, Calgary Herald
Here is the response from us that was was posted by Calgary Herald after the article.
Many say that it is right for homosexuals to be treated with dignity and respect, and as fellow human beings we are all created equally and do deserve equal respect.
But there comes a point when fair debate in any matter, where opinions diverge greatly, can turn hot and get heated up. Such was the case recently at the steps of City Hall after the pride walk in Calgary.
Homosexuals without provocation maligned and attacked Street Church volunteers during a church service for the poor.
The homosexual community repeatedly asks for more and more. More freedom, more tolerance, more rights, more this, more that, yet at the same time, there are some very visible and vocal activist homosexuals who are not honouring the rights of Christians. We desire nothing but good for those individuals who identify themselves as homosexuals, yet on Sunday September 6, 2009 they came to our peaceful demonstration, after their pride walk, and violently opposed us, mocking us, cursing at us, and even having to be restrained from burning down our ‘Jesus is King’ flag.
Obviously tolerance is merely a word bandied about for their own gain as a weapon used against others to gain acceptance for their lifestyles, but not out of a true desire to be mutually tolerant.
I am all for tolerance, but tolerance for all, equally applied.
One thing is certain, if the City succeeds with their plans to place more injunctions against Street Church Ministries, they will be well on their way to creating a dictatorship, in our ‘fair’ city. Free speech is a basic fundamental of a free and democratic society and represents healthy and necessary discourse allowing all citizens to publicly air their deeply held convictions and opinions.
Without this fundamental right, there no longer remains a fundamental mooring upon which democracy may stand.