Drag Day of Solidarity in Calgary aims to celebrate drag and protest against hate

LGBTQ2S+ Calgarians are banding together to celebrate drag across the city on Saturday.

Queer Citizens United (QCU), an LGBTQ2S+ advocacy group, organized Drag Day of Solidarity in response to recent anti-drag protests across the city.

Around 40 different businesses, ranging from bars and restaurants to tattoo shops and retail stores, will be hosting drag shows and events in Calgary and Okotoks.

“There are all sorts of things going on, and they’ve signed on to show their support and ally themselves with the queer community,” said QCU queer events organizer Kayla Bigras.

“This is incredible. Queer people are here and we’re welcome. It’s exciting to see so many people join in on this.”

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But the event isn’t just about celebrating local drag queens: it’s also a time to celebrate and protect the queer and trans community.

This comes as hate crimes against the LGBTQ2+ community have been on the rise. Across Canada, between 2019 and 2021, there was a 64 per cent uptick in hate crimes targeting sexual orientation, according to Statistics Canada.

Bigras said QCU was also formed to protect LGBQT2S+ Calgarians from rising hostility.

Read more: As anti-LGBTQ2 hate grows in Canada, advocates say it’s ‘never been as scary’

“It’s becoming clear that the increasing hate towards trans people, towards queer people means we need to really come together as a strong force to draw the line and say we belong here, we exist here and we’re not going anywhere,” Bigras told Global News.

“This is my home. This is my spot. I deserve to have safety and happiness here.”

Bigras noted that homophobia and transphobia have always existed in Calgary, and LGBTQ2S+ members carry trauma from hateful people every day.

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She noted the protests intensified last summer and Calgary seems to be the hot spot for anti-LGBTQ2S+ sentiments.

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“It’s scary. We’ve heard from younger queer folks or younger drag performers saying it’s scary to go into these spaces that used to bring them a lot of joy,” Bigras said.

“Having an adult show up and scream at them that they’re going to burn in a lake of fire… That’s really horrifying and traumatizing to a child.

“If people are out here saying they’re here to protect the children, that’s not the way to do it.”

Read more: Trans Albertans find joy in community in the face of rising hatred: ‘We stand together’

Other groups are finding creative ways to protect queer and trans youth at events.

The Fairy Guardian Project in Calgary is a non-violent intervention wall of 10-foot hot pink fairy guardian costumes to prevent anti-LGBTQ2S+ protesters from getting close to queer and trans people.

The project was based on Angel Action in the mid-1990s after Romaine Patterson was shocked to find protesters outside a funeral service for her friend Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in a homophobic attack.

According to Patterson’s personal website, she started the Angel Action movement in early April 1999 when the trials for Shepard’s accused killers began.

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Canada’s LGBTQ+ safe spaces are disappearing at worst possible time

When a pastor named Fred Phelps showed up with a dozen homophobic protesters, members of Patterson’s group were dressed in flowing white angel costumes with 10-foot wingspans turned their backs and silently blocked them from view of passersby.

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“It’s been really inspiring to see people come together and do something about (the hate),” said activist James Demers.

“This tactic gives people a chance to come to a counter-protest, to take action in the community and have a job to do. They know they can get their message across.

“The wings were created by dozens and dozens of volunteers at different locations all over the city, so the co-ordination has been really impressive.”

Read more: U.S. mass killings tied to extremism have spiked over the last decade: report

Demers said more protections are needed for queer and trans Calgarians. He urges people to fill out a city survey asking residents how they feel about the new safe space bylaw, which forbids discriminatory protests within 100 metres of a public library or recreation centre.

“This bylaw is vitally important for equity across the entire spectrum of Calgary’s population,” the activist said.

“We need to address this here so that our neighbours and the people that work with us in other communities don’t see similar harassment.”

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