Calgary's Pride Festival, now 4th-largest in Canada, kicks off

Calgary Pride Festival is officially underway in this city.

It started nearly three decades ago, and is now one of the largest Pride Festivals in the country, incorporating family fun, music and entertainment with tackling serious issues facing the LGBTQ2S community.

City of Calgary first declared Pride Week in 1991. Now 28 years later, Pride Festival has grown into the fourth largest in the country.

"Our goal at Pride is to try and create as many free opportunities to engage the public, create connectivity and foster empathy," said Parker Chapple, executive director at Pride Calgary.

Those include family events, music and theatre, a gay history walk and discussion groups to discuss topics such as life as an LGBT senior or as a newcomer to Calgary.

And for the first time, the festival will feature an Indigenous drag cabaret. 

"It's called the Making Treaty 7: Queer Cab Fab Drags," said Marshall Vielle, a drag queen from Kainai Nation near Standoff, Alta., who performs as Mavis Vontrese.

Rachel Maclean/CBC

Dielle says it's time Indigenous voices became part of the tapestry of Calgary Pride. The show will be performed entirely by Canadian Indigenous drag artists.

"Everyone says you need to knock on the door, but I kicked the door down," the performer said. "And was just, 'I'm here, I'm queer and I'm just going to try and be the best representation of a two-spirit queen.'"

Two-spirit is an umbrella term for queer Indigenous gender, sexual and spiritual identities.

Pride Week has expanded "exponentially" over the years, Chapple said.

"This year we have really exciting programming," Chapple said. "We will have a stage with a whole host of different performances, music, theatre, drag. In the library we have a whole bunch of workshops."

The family zone will have puppet and robot-making, and more than 100 vendors. The Reading with Royalty program is back this year with drag queens reading to kids, to encourage youth to move beyond gender stereotypes.

Pride Week can be especially important for newcomers to Canada, Chapple said. Calgary Pride had partnered with the Centre for Newcomers.

The partnership "provides an opportunity for folks to hear stories from LGBTQ refugees or asylum seekers, most of which are from the Middle East or North African countries, which is where homosexuality is criminalized," Chapple said. "And they talk about their experience of coming from those countries into Canada and what that experience has been like for them."

On Saturday at 2:30 p.m., there will be a panel discussion at Memorial Park Library on the challenges of integrating LGBT refugees and newcomers into the community. Then on Monday, there will be a fundraising event at Ol' Beautiful Brewing Co. for End of the Rainbow Foundation, which helps LGBT refugees restart their lives in Canada.

"Their experience as a LGBTQ person in this city has almost always been positive because they are almost always in a welcoming environment with others," Chapple said.

Chapple said it's powerful to hear the stories of those who have faced discrimination.

"Many in our community are struggling every single day still, and that's why we still need to have Pride," Chapple said. "We need to take this opportunity to ignite that dialogue and that learning." 

Calgary's Festival runs Sept. 1, which is the day of the Pride Parade. It wraps up with a midnight showing of the classic campy immersive experience of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

For more on how to celebrate Pride, check out this list of highlights, bookmark the full schedule and follow cbc.ca/pride.