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Queer History Project Returns

History by Carey Rutherford (From GayCalgary® Magazine, April 2013, page 21)
Queer History Project Returns
Queer History Project Returns
Queer History Project Returns

It’s not clear if Kevin Allen realizes it, but his statements are full of meaning when he talks to GayCalgary Magazine:

"I’m [1] doing another [2] [Queer History] presentation [3], in the Calgary Public Library downtown [4] and it’s being put on by the Calgary Heritage Authority [5] on May 3rd, from 5:30 - 7:00."

1. Kevin Allen, self-proclaimed ‘amateur’ historian, and Executive Director of the Alberta Media Arts Alliance

2. He’s doing another one because the first one was so successful, and the City of Calgary became interested

3. An idea he developed on his own, and received funding to pursue from the ‘Calgary 2012‘ committee to promote local cultural projects

4. The first event was in the old YMCA building for historical reasons

5. Calgary Heritage Authority, who are interested in ‘invisible histories’ from around Calgary

So you’ve been given lots of warning. Considering the response to the first event, you might need the lead time to book yourself in.

"It was very humbling. I was honoured that so many people came out to see the presentation. We ran out of chairs half an hour before the presentation started, and we stole chairs from the neighbouring office, and it continued to fill, so it was packed, standing-room only, to hear the presentation."

In October of 2012, when GayCalgary Magazine first interviewed Kevin, he was still gathering material, searching elders in the LGBTQ community for oral histories, and holding court in Calgary Outlink as ‘Historian in Residence’ to gather archival information from whatever sources were willing to step forward.

"We had some representatives from the Calgary Heritage Authority (at the presentation), and the City’s Heritage planner came, and was very interested in the project. He said to me a lot of Calgary’s history community has this single narrative: it tends to be white, middle-class; it’s about the Stampede; it’s about oil discovery and that’s kind of the story of Calgary."

When Kevin was originally successful in his funding application with the Calgary 2012 group, he said that he felt compelled "to get it done in a reasonable time frame." Making it an incredible success didn’t hurt, either.

"The City’s Heritage planner, Darryl Cariou, works with the Calgary Heritage Authority, which is the citizen’s advisory group that does heritage programming, including designating historical buildings. They have a monthly speaking series, Heritage Matters: Invisible People and Places in 1950s and 1960s Calgary, and they asked me to do a presentation on May 3rd at the W.R. Castell Library downtown.

"This had actually been scheduled before I did the presentation in February. I was doing a lot of work on the Calgary Queer History website, and I’ve gotten about 4,000 hits on the website, and a lot of interest, and people started cold-calling me, and that’s where the City came in.

"The Calgary Foundation also called, and mentioned that they’re doing their Jane’s Walk in May, and asked if I’d be willing to do a gay history Jane’s Walk. So on the next day, May 4th, I’m doing a walking tour in the Beltline of significant sites for the gay community in the sixties and seventies."

I noted the time change between the presentation and the Walk, and wondered if there was a specific reason why.

"A lot of the queer activist energy and advocacy really took off in the seventies and eighties across North America, and that’s reflected in Calgary as well, so I want to talk about some of the stories that were significant then. And they’re really geographically-centred." Kevin mentions his research unearthing police files from the Memorial Park area with gay men alleging harassment by the police, and the anti-gay demonstrations in the Beltline in the eighties.

"The reason I did the fifties and sixties to begin with is that those were the decades I was most interested in, they were the most mysterious to me. Also, I initially needed some kind of container, some boundary, because otherwise it was just too broad.

"But eventually, I want to explore all of our history in Calgary."

I asked Mr. Allen how the change in tone between the fifties’ hidden disgrace and the eighties’ empowered action affects what he’s doing as a historian.

"I do think they have a different flavour or tenor, but there’s no sharp boundary between the decades: We’re in the 1970s now, things are different. No, there is a flow in occurrences and time, so there is a narrative that we can tell about our historical gay community in the city. Things that happened in the fifties and sixties really impacted what happened later, and I want to really reflect on everything.

"But the library presentation is going to be similar to the one I did in the Old Y in February."

Kevin had originally hoped to gather oral histories from seniors about their experiences, along with the physical archives of documents he was gathering:

"I did find seniors in the community that were really happy to talk, to share their experiences; almost like an unburdening. I was really gratified at the presentation in February. I had people who I’d interviewed come to the presentation, and there were some youth groups there, so there were people from their teens all the way up to their eighties. It had a really nice community feel; there was a great energy in the room.

"But I’m still collecting stories. The next phase of this project is going to be the oral history part. I had intended to do that, but once I started digging there was just so much material to get through that I haven’t actually done the recordings yet.... I’ve had some meetings with the CEO of the Glenbow and their head archivist about creating a queer archive in their archive space, and they’re keen to do it."

He also mentions that the Queer History Project is becoming a resource for others: Justine Bonczek, a local artist and community-involved activist, is working on a documentary based on some of the materials Kevin has unearthed, "and my hope is that we’ll build a community of queer historians, that it won’t be just me; that there will be lots of people in different organizations doing their own kind of work that will feed together to create a richer community for us all."

Spoken like a true historian.(GC)

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