Calgarians frustrated after Chinook Blast events postponed over safety concerns

Click to play video: 'Drag performers forced to postpone event, cite safety concerns'
Drag performers forced to postpone event, cite safety concerns
WATCH: There was disappointment and frustration Friday over the postponement of a planned event in Calgary. The risk of protests forced a drag performance for ‘Chinook Blast’ to be temporarily cancelled. As Jill Croteau reports, Calgary’s mayor encourages officers to enforce the street harassment bylaw to fine those who openly communicate hateful messaging – Feb 10, 2023

Many Calgarians are frustrated after two Chinook Blast events were postponed over safety concerns due to anti-LGBTQ2S+ protests.

Two performances — Drag On Ice and DJ Gaysnakes — were scheduled to take place on Saturday and Sunday afternoon, respectively as part of Chinook Blast festivities in Olympic Plaza.

Drag on Ice was to feature drag kings and queens trading in their sky-high heels for skates in a “two-hour display of drag entertainment and games as our performers serve up some frozen fierceness.”

When the organizers learned about the protests, they decided to merge the two events and host them on Saturday instead.

The festival then announced on Thursday that both shows had been postponed due to unforeseen circumstances.

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And late Friday, Chinook Blast announced it was removing more of its scheduled programming at the venue “in light of the ongoing safety concerns surrounding the protests that are planned at Olympic Plaza on Saturday afternoon.”

Local drag queen Karla Marx, who was supposed to perform on Drag On Ice in Calgary, said she felt “very disappointed” because a lot of people wanted to see the event this weekend.

“The vast majority of people wanted to see this event or didn’t care. It is a very vocal, very small fringe minority that had the complaint,” Marx told Global News.

“We had to put safety first and there was no way, given the unique features of this site, that we could ensure that people could come safely.”

Click to play video: 'Canada’s first LGBT2SQ+ film festival celebrates milestone anniversary'
Canada’s first LGBT2SQ+ film festival celebrates milestone anniversary

Marx added she wanted to protect queer and trans youth who might be going to LGBTQ-friendly events for the first time.

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There was no way to guarantee everyone’s safety because Olympic Plaza is a very accessible public space. The decision to postpone the event was made after consulting with Mayor Jyoti Gondek, the City of Calgary and the Calgary Police Service.

“I refuse to have a situation where a seven-year-old queer kid is in the audience and has hate spewed in their space,” she said.

Cal Gibbens, otherwise known as DJ Gaysnakes on stage, is angry — especially as a new performer in the LGBTQ2S+ community.

However, he is not surprised that groups were planning to protest the event.

“It makes me angry that this is something that we still have to deal with, especially the younger generations,” Gibbens said.

“I feel like there has been a gradual anger and a growing reactionary presence as certain things are normalized.

“I think people are scared of the change and losing control when there’s nothing to be scared of.”

Click to play video: 'Chilliwack man arrested in connection with homophobic tirade outside Burrard SkyTrain Station'
Chilliwack man arrested in connection with homophobic tirade outside Burrard SkyTrain Station

In response to news about the protests, Gondek said she is frustrated that Chinook Blast decided to cancel the Drag On Ice event.

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Gondek said in a Friday morning tweet while she respects the decision, the protests are “rooted in hate and fear-mongering.”

She said the city will be using its street harassment bylaw to fine people who “openly communicate hateful messaging.”

“What you don’t have the right to do is use hateful language in a public place that makes feel people unwelcome and unsafe,” Gondek told reporters during a news conference on Friday afternoon.

“This is not a victory. Shutting down events that will boost our economy, shutting down things that people enjoy… That is not a victory.

“The organizers at Chinook Blast have been absolute champs. They’ve taken the time to speak with performers… I do hope we do not have to make such a difficult decision again.”

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The Calgary Downtown Association also said it is disappointed in the change of programming and the postponement of Drag On Ice.

Mark Garner, executive director of the association, said the city’s downtown must be safe and inclusive for all.

“A change at this point in time seems like we’re going a little backwards,” he told Global News.

The Calgary events are the latest in a series of drag functions to be cancelled in recent weeks.

In three different cities across Canada over a weekend in late January, small protests popped up in front of libraries and restaurants where drag events were set to take place.

Some of those protesters carried signs that appeared to perpetuate homophobic tropes alleging the events and people in the drag community were “grooming” children for sexual exploitation.

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

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Marx said the postponement isn’t meant to feed into the perception that LGBTQ2S+ people and drag queens are being chased away.

“We have to deal with the reality of the situation, say that this has grown to the point where it has to be taken seriously… this hate is growing,” she said.

— With files from Rachel Gilmore and Adam Toy, Global News

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