I’m an Edmontonian, (hence “AltaBear” for Alberta and Bear) and having come out in the early 1980’s dealt with the somewhat hostile environment for Gay and Lesbian people back then.
Since then, I wound up being involved in several areas of the then GLB community, and remain involved to this day. We all can do our own part, and I believe we must do it, in order to help build the world that we want for us, and those new generations of people in our community.
In 1980 I’d been working with my family in their jewellery store. I was interested in gemology, and since our gemologist was going to be leaving to make his own store, I decided to study in Los Angeles (Santa Monica really) at the GIA to become a gemologist.
After graduating, I’d been working in our store for a while and my Dad said “let’s go to California on a holiday” so I (of course) say “sure”.
While we were down there visiting jewellers, hanging out and doing attractions, he’d mentioned a few times in the elegant way he always did – things like “ever think of getting married?…” etc.
Being 20, and more or less focused on having fun, I didn’t think much of it.
After we’d returned, I was working in our store, and realized that I was gay – and at that point, just after I mentioned it to one of our staff, the radio we were playing in the store (no kidding) played “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross!
So after that message from the Universe, I went upstairs to my Dad’s office. I closed the door and he said “looks like something’s serious…”.
I said “Dad, I wanted to tell you that” and he finished “you’re gay”.
I said “…uh, yeah”. He explained that he’d thought that was the case for a while, and when he took me on holiday, he’d been hoping to help me come out – so I wouldn’t have to be hiding that part of my life.
Then, I went to the inventory control office to see my Mom, and closed her door and said “Mom, I want to tell you something”. She said “You’re going to tell me that you’re gay?”. I said “did Dad intercom you or something?’
She said “No, I’ve always known…”.
After visiting my brother’s office he also said he’d thought so and it was fine.
The Next Step
I looked up in the phone book (that’s ancient Yelp for my millennial friends), “gay” and came up with many people but also “Gay Alliance Toward Equality” or “GATE”. I dropped in there on it’s 104 street location and found the hosts, counsellors and visitors to be interesting, as were the resources you had there.
I asked “where do we go?” and was told about Flashback (which I really miss) and The Roost – which were both on 104 street a couple of blocks north. They also mentioned Boots ‘n Saddle on 106 st.
My only experience with bars was straight ones, so I went to Flash at around 7pm (lol I know) and the person at the door said “what’re you doing honey?” and explained it to me.
The next night I showed up around 10pm (which was better lol) and was inside and an elderly gentleman asked if I’d like a drink – and I was about to answer, until a strong hand with long painted nails grabbed my shoulder and pulled me away.
I looked up, up and up and saw what looked like a 7 foot woman in a sparkly dress and lots of makeup. She said “come with me”.
That was Mary Mess (ISCWR Empress #17 from ” The Recycled Environmentally Friendly 17th Imperial House of Androgyny” ) and she started saying “that guy is a no… that guy is also a no…etc.)
Kind of taking me under her wing that night, which I have never forgotten. In fact I would talk to and hang on to Mary and some other queens for most of my “gay formative years” lol.
In my “outside of bar” life, I wound up being a host at GATE, and eventually took the counselling course, and wound up on the Board. Through several iterations, GATE has become The Pride Center.
In addition to being involved with the initial founding of Northern Chaps (and even making the art for the Alberta Drummer T-Shirt), I was called by my friend Trevor when he needed a volunteer to work on a 6 month study for the Alberta Human Rights Commission on the impact of including sexual orientation in the Individual’s Rights Protection Act. That was in 1992 and here’s the story.
We’ve come a long way since then, but when you see the kind of “governments” that are being elected, including ours here in Alberta it becomes clear that the work must continue.
Newer generations also have to pick up the torch and start continuing the work previous generations have done. Work that allows them to be more themselves, and express themselves.
What won’t work however, is continual divisiveness between every “group”. Governments like the current Alberta one LOVE that though, because it makes us collectively weaker.