Being Gay in Edmonton

Unlike other urban regions in Canada, Edmonton lacks a gay district that could allow our city to truly take pride in acceptance and equality

BY EMIL TIEDEMANN


"WHAT if they stabbed me?" asked Chevi Rabbit after he was attacked in public by a group of men last year near the U of A campus, on his way to the local grocery store. "What if they had a knife or something?"

The University student was targeted simply because he's gay, apparent when the young men began yelling homophobic slurs at Rabbit, who has since become somewhat of a voice for the rights and equality of Edmonton's LGBTQ+ community.

The Castro District in San Francisco is the most prominent and one of the first gay neighbourhoods in
the United States, established during the 1960s and '70s.

Fortunately, Rabbit was not seriously injured during the July 2012 incident, though it certainly affected how safe he feels in his own neighbourhood. How could you blame him!

This is not the first time - and likely not the last - that an incident of this kind took place in Edmonton, and it's not unique to our city, of course. However, homophobia is too common in Edmonton, and gay acceptance still has a long way to go. Being a gay man who's lived here all his life, I should know

With that said, I understand that there will likely never be 100% tolerance and understanding of people who are LGBTQ+, but that doesn't mean that we can't go a lot further here in Edmonton, a city that seems to be lacking when it comes to educating people on LGBTQ+ acceptance and equality. We need to find a way to make being gay in Edmonton as safe and accepted as being straight in Edmonton. 

And I think it could start with a defined district for LGBTQ+ people, where we and our allies could go for a night out, a coffee, or to buy groceries without out worrying about someone's personal discriminations. 

That should be the case anywhere and everywhere in the city, but a designated district would allow that initial transition period for gay opponents to re-establish their thoughts and feelings towards LGBTQ+ people in our town. It would make it more common, perhaps to the point where people simply don't care or even realize that they're sipping beers with someone right next to them who happens to be lesbian, gay, bi, trans or queer!

University of Alberta student Chevi Rabbit was attacked and
humiliated in public by a group of men, simply because he's gay.

That's not to say that this hypothetical LGBTQ+ district, such as that in many metros across the continent, would be welcome only to those who desire the same sex. Nope, it would be open to anyone of any sexual tendency, or of any race, gender, colour, religion, shape and/or size. No prejudices allowed!

If anyone is welcome there, including straight people, what's the use in defining such an area then? In gay districts, such as The Castro in San Francisco, these cohesive neighbourhoods lend a strong sense of inclusion and belonging to the gay community, a place where they can get used to feeling safe and open in other districts of the city, because - let's admit it - not everyone feels safe and open everywhere. 

Who wouldn't like to hang out in an area where they're free to be themselves without the chance of prejudiced tension and harassment, and where there are other like-minded people, kind of like folks who gather in Chinatown, at a concert, or even at church. Everyone would like such an opportunity, but most of us take that luxury for granted. 

I have a friend - let's call him Dave - who grew up in Edmonton, tortured at times by the fear of coming out. Who could blame him, considering that he was harassed, mentally and physically, because others thought he was gay. Getting slapped around on the bus and being called a "faggot" forced him further inside that imaginary closet, no hope of him being free to be exactly who he was. 

So, Dave moved away, to another country altogether. There, he is out and free to be just who he was born to be. How is that fair that he had to uproot and move halfway across the world in order for that to happen? I'm not saying that all gay men and women are afraid to come out here in Edmonton, but there are certainly others like Dave here. I've met some of them.

According to a recent report, Canada is the third most gay-friendly nation in the world, behind Spain and Germany, and I'd be the first to admit that that's a pretty accurate account. But, despite those boasts, we've still got a lot of ground to cover when it comes to total acceptance of the LGBTQ+ minority. And as much as I hate to admit it, perhaps more so in Alberta than in other provinces. 

Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, and even Winnipeg have established "gay villages" where there are prominent gay communities that allow acceptance prosper and cultivate. So what are we waiting for?!


This past summer Edmonton's CFB became the first military base in Canada to raise the gay pride flag. The rainbow flag is now on display at the Royal Alberta Museum. (Photo courtesy of Global Edmonton).

Yes, we have a handful of ever-changing gay bars and gay-friendly cafes (and the annual Pride Festival), but they are sporadic, and most of them (with the exception of Buddy's, Woody's, and the new Evolution) don't clearly advertise that they are oriented towards the LGBTQ+ crowd. 

Imagine a precinct dedicated to gay-oriented eateries, coffeehouses, pubs, dance bars, shops, condos, and resources. All in one place, for all to see and experience on their own accord, and where safety is (hopefully) never an issue. Where hiding is out of the question. 

It's not fair for me to say that I haven't had it easy when it comes to being harassed because I'm gay, but I want more! I want Edmonton to be universally-recognized as a gay-friendly destination for locals and visitors alike; a metro with a burgeoning gay district for LGBTQ+ people to come together, free and fearless, and live out in the open just like the rest of Edmonton does. 

Is that really asking for so much? Ask Chevi, or Dave, and I'm sure they would agree with me, hands down!


Below is a list of LGBTQ+ resources and places in Edmonton:

-Gay Edmonton
-Pride Centre of Edmonton
-Edmonton Pride Festival
-Institute for Sexual Minority Studies & Services
-HIV Edmonton
-Edmonton Rainbow Business Association
-The Imperial Sovereign Court of the Wild Rose
-I Dig Your Girlfriend-Team Edmonton
-Youthsafe
-Womonspace
-Edmonton Vocal Minority
-Alberta Trans
-Buddy's Nite Club
-Woody's Pub & Cafe
-Junction Bar & Eatery


Former Edmonton City Councillor Michael Phair was the first openly gay elected politician in Alberta, and currently serves as Adjustment Professor and
Education Coordinator for the iSMSS.

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