For this week’s column I was going to write a year-in-review top-10 list of important queer events since it is the last Queermonton of 2013. While I usually enjoy these ritual reflections on the past year, this year it seems more fitting to write a sort of “State of Edmonton’s Queer Communities,” since we seem to be at a turning point in our history.
It is common for people to assume that Alberta has small, timid and quiet LGBT*Q communities because over the past 42 years Alberta has gained a reputation as the most conservative and homophobic province in Canada. Since 1971, the Progressive Conservative government—which has governed the province with overwhelming legislative majorities—has maintained power, in part by continually appeasing their religious and socially conservative base. Alberta’s one-party government has accordingly implemented laws and policies that have been punitive and regulatory of Alberta’s LGBT*Q citizens. In this climate, it is hard to believe that LGBT*Q communities would emerge. Yet the Pride Centre of Edmonton, for example, may be one of the longest running LGBT*Q organizations in the country. Students at the University of Alberta started a gay and lesbian student group in the ’70s. The student group formed a community centre which, through many incarnations, became the current Pride Centre. I think this conservative atmosphere has actually fostered powerful, diverse and at times conflicting, LGB, transgender and queer community, activist and social groups in the province.
I have only been seriously involved in Edmonton’s LGBT*Q communities. By the time I realized that I was queer, and that there was a queer community in Ottawa, I was packing my bags to move to Edmonton for graduate school. Still, during the past eight years, I have learned a great deal about our communities’ histories, challenges and successes.
For particular kinds of LGBT*Q people, Alberta in 2013 is a fairly accepting place: the PCs have finally added sexual orientation to the province’s Human Rights Code, sex reassignment surgery has been funded again and some school districts are allowing Gay Straight Alliances. This brand of acceptance certainly makes life more manageable for many in our community.
Yet with this public acceptance comes complacency and a homogenization of voices within our LGBT*Q communities, and there remains much work to be done for many LGBT*Q Albertans. Our community organizations, especially those with relative power and influence, must be continuously conscious of who is speaking for our communities and who is being silenced. Moreover, there are diverse social and political goals and a discrepant dispersal of resources within our communities. We must realize that although our goals may be different, it is vital that resources are shared among community organizations. We are all fighting for a better life for marginalized Albertans, regardless of the differences between us. With decades of federal and provincial budget cuts to not-for-profits and social services, we have been forced to fight each other for scraps. We are only exacerbating the problem if we hoard resources—including money, space and labour—at the expense of other organizations in our LGBT*Q and broader social-justice communities. Let’s make 2014 the year of even more social protest actions, community building and resource sharing, as we continue to build strong and diverse queer communities in this unlikely place.
This is my last Queermonton column, due to other commitments, and I am most grateful that it has afforded me the opportunity to learn about our queer communities and to share important stories, actions and issues over the past three years.