CALGARY (CityNews) – “I think that anybody could be a cowboy, or a cowgirl or a cowperson.”
Charles Macmichael says Pride Day at Stampede started with just eight friends having fun and in its seven years has grown to be a full day event with over 1,300 attendees in 2018.
“It started as a way of making sure that those people and their allies felt comfortable coming to an event that some people may think of as not friendly to that community. We welcome people and we give them fun nametags that have Stampede names like ‘Sassy Lassy’ or ‘Raunchy Ranchhand’,” Macmichael laughed.
There is a full day of entertainment as they carve out a safe and inclusive space at one of the oldest events in the country.
“I’ve always felt really comfortable in my community, but I know that’s not the case for a lot of people.
“I heard that when I started coming to the Stampede and wanting to be a part of it. I’ve heard from a lot of people that it really is the only reason they come to the Stampede on that Saturday. To come meet new people to express themselves that feels safe and comfortable and just have a place that they previously might not have felt was embracing them (to) reach out and do that on purpose and be purposeful about it.”
From 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. on July 6th, Pride Day at the Calgary Stampede will take place inside Nashville North.
Organizers recommend that it’s important to show up a little early to avoid the lines.
Despite the day in support of the LGBTQ2+ community, ‘being out’ in such a public setting is difficult for some.
“I guess it means that the work is not done. Even though your personal journey might be one that’s relatively accepting, a lot of people are afraid of their manager or their parents or of their school system and what might happen to them if they are vocal about something that might be considered taboo in some parts of today’s society,” Macmichael said.
The Calgary Stampede has thrown its full support behind the event, encouraging people who feel scared to show who they truly are that this is a safe space.
“We love it. We think that it’s a sign of the Stampede really trying to embrace the entire community and look towards the future. We know Calgary as a city has really changed over the last 15 years and it’s not just about white male cowboys. It’s about women and families and people of colour and different communities and we want to be a part of that. For them to embrace us really feels special. It feels like pushing a boundary and doing something that wasn’t easy, which makes it so much more valuable,” Macmichael said.
“It’s huge. It’s really important and we’re finding that everyone thinks that ‘everyone is out’ and it’s okay to be gay. Well, there are certain areas and pockets of the country where it’s still not that great,” Judy Munson, the president of the Canadian Rockies Gay Rodeo Association said.
“I’ve really embraced the idea that the Calgary Stampede is not about the past, it’s about the future and about opening those things up. But I think that there’s some work to do,” said Macmichael.
There is a lot to do for Pride Day, including line dancing, a stage show with different performers, drag performance and the handing out of the Western Trailblazer Award. The award recognizes someone in the community who has been pushing to do something to make places more accessible to the LGTBQ2+. This is the third year the award will be handed out.
“It fills a need. I think that in the rural community specifically, often people that are gay don’t really want to come out in their small community. They’re farmers, they’re ranchers, that’s how they’ve grown up. For them to come and participate is amazing,” Munson said.
One of the participants in years past, Sean Buckley, said the event is amazing because it allows him to feel safe.
“It’s a chance to be normal and be in public so I don’t have to hide. I can be me in public,” he said.
In the years ahead, Macmichael said he wants to focus more on families, especially same-sex couples with children as a way to incorporate their children to the park.
“It’s about integration, not segregation,” he said.