Teaching Edmonton’s queer history: App aims to fill gap in school curriculum

Pocket-size guide to Edmonton LGBTQ+ history
WATCH ABOVE: U of A education prof Jason Harley has developed an app that shows users the gains and hurdles faced by sexual and gender minorities in Edmonton through previous decades.

When Edmonton kicks off this year’s Pride Festival on Friday, it will be a celebration of how far we’ve come. However, there are still many gaps in understanding how the city got to this point.

Jason Harley, an assistant professor in the University of Alberta’s department of educational psychology, has helped create an interactive app that maps out Edmonton’s queer history.

He hopes it can be used in a few ways. First, to address a curriculum gap in high schools across Alberta and Canada.

“We cover in social studies, in history, the suffrage movement, the civil rights movement — these are really important things and one of the reasons they’re important is that they provide us with perspective,” Harley said.

“They provide us with perspective on historically disadvantaged and minority groups and that’s really important to understand the trajectory of where we’re moving for all these different groups and demographics.

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“I think generally that the trajectory is moving in the right direction which is a great thing. There’s still work to do.”

READ MORE: Transgender Edmonton teen calls on all shelters to adopt LGBTQ guidelines

The app will include a timeline of significant events, video, photos and even proper terminology connected to the LGBTQ+ community.

“Understanding the past does give us an important lens to understand the present as well as the future,” Harley said. “The app is … focusing in on particularly the past but we also do make some contrast with where things are in the present in comparison.”

READ MORE: Edmonton queer history app being developed

It includes information on the court case involving Delwin Vriend, an Edmonton teacher who was fired for his sexual orientation. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. It also sheds light on the Pisces Health Spa raid.

“That was something that a lot of interviewees mentioned to us,” Harley said. “This was a moment when people realized that it wasn’t enough to be below the radar. People thought that if it was quiet, subtle, then you’d have that security and protection and people would be left alone… This really proved to people that nope, that security didn’t exist and that really spurred a lot of advocates.”

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Watch below: This weekend, Edmonton will kick off the Pride festival with a parade through Old Strathcona. Now, an interactive app sheds light on the city’s rich LGBTQ community – from the milestones to the challenging times. Emily Mertz explains.

Interactive app sheds light on Edmonton’s LGBTQ community
Interactive app sheds light on Edmonton’s LGBTQ community

Another way the app can be used is as a guided walking tour through the city.

“Whether people do this in a classroom context or on foot… if you go through it in the order of the locations we’ve presented, we’ve developed narratives so people can get a sense of moving through time and also moving through rights.

“We hope that that perspective helps to capture what was going on,” Harley said.

“One of the guiding principals behind the app was to be more than a textbook.

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“We were so grateful for the wonderful interviewees — people like Judge Julie Lloyd, Michael Phair — a number of important people for the LGBTQ+ community participated and were so generous with their time, with their resources.”

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Harley is hopeful more perspective will lead to greater empathy, erase misconceptions and myths, and reduce cases of hate crime.

“The stats show it looks really good,” he said, “for the app doing what we’d hope it would do.

“We’ll continue to move on the important trajectory that we’re on in Canada towards a continually more inclusive, tolerant, accepting and diverse public and society.”

READ MORE: Edmonton Catholic students asked to remove Pride decorations help premier hoist flag 

The app is available for download here starting Tuesday, June 5.

— With files from Global’s Jennifer Crosby