The City of Calgary says it will move forward with plans for its rainbow-coloured transit bus this week in honour of Pride festivities after a Calgary Transit bus driver said he would refuse to drive the vehicle because of his religious beliefs.
“I’m a little surprised,” city manager Jeff Fielding told reporters on Monday at City Hall. “It wasn’t something that last week was on my desk to be concerned about, and I didn’t expect that on Monday afternoon I’d be standing in front of a large media audience addressing matters that are important to me. I didn’t see that coming.”
The “Pride bus” was unveiled last week in advance of the Pride Festival’s kickoff, and features the words, “Ride with Pride.” It’s the first time Calgary Transit has decorated a bus in honour of Pride.
Jesse Rau, who has been a bus driver for about a year, has previously spoken out against possibly having to drive the bus, despite not having been assigned to it, saying it goes against his religious convictions as a Christian.
Fielding said he met with other city staff regarding those concerns who agreed it was a “non-issue.” He said the Pride bus reflects the city’s values of inclusion, diversity and respect.
“I don’t know exactly why this is an issue for people of my generation, for example, if I can put it from that perspective, or if it’s an issue of other substance … We embrace people from all walks of life. I just find it unfortunate that we’re still embroiled in these types of conversations today,” he said.
“We expect individuals within our organization to live up to our standards, to live up to our code of practices that we have in place, and to understand the responsibilities they have as a City of Calgary employee.”
The Pride bus began running Monday at 4:15 p.m. along Route 2. It will run during the duration of Pride week along various routes.
But Rau, 30, said the city’s initiative makes him feel “threatened and intimidated.”
“When I Google ‘Gay Pride parades’ in general, I see extreme forms of sexual expression that is wrapped in a rainbow bow and presented to our children literally with nudity,” he told the Herald. “I do not want to be mistaken that I promote it. In fact, I would like people to know that I am not for it, that I would like it to stop, ultimately.”
Rau said he wouldn’t quit his job over the bus but expects to be fired for his public comments. He said his supervisors have brought forward accusations that he has been texting and driving, which he says is untrue and a result of a stigma he gained once he spoke out against Pride.
“As soon as they can, I believe that they would like to let me go,” said Rau, who was still driving his normal route on Monday. “People have fear of losing their job, especially about this issue. There’s a diverse group of people and there’s no way that those that are promoting this Pride bus feel that everyone is excited to be a part of it.”
Rau is a member of a church that is presided over by Artur Pawlowski, a pastor who has had many previous run-ins with the city over issues related to religious freedom.
Pawlowski said Rau originally approached him after the driver had supposedly been told by his superiors to remove anti-Pride posts on Facebook. He said he told Rau it was his choice whether or not to speak out, but that he always encourages his congregants “to stand up and do what’s right.”
“When you are being hired by the Calgary city transit, you’re not allowed to bring your ideology or religion to the workplace. They don’t even follow their own policies. That really freaked him out,” Pawlowski said. “Calgary Transit brought this whole thing upon themselves by putting their noses in the private lives of their employees and not sticking to the deal.
Fielding would not speak to private personnel matters, but said Rau should have contacted his manager privately about being assigned to a different bus should the situation arise, rather than speaking to the media.
He said the city hasn’t been formally approached by Rau or other employees with concerns about the Pride bus, nor would it be deterred from similar initiates in the future.