EDMONTON - Almost two months after anti-gay remarks by one candidate helped sink the Wildrose party's bid for power in Alberta, party leader Danielle Smith began the long process of mending fences Tuesday.
Smith joined members of Edmonton's gay and lesbian community as they toured the city's police operations garage in a southside bunker building as part of the annual Pride festival.
Smith chatted amicably — clearly doing more listening than talking — while others toured the facility, eating finger snacks and checking out bomb-defusing robots, sniper rifles and a tank with a mounted battering ram.
She met with organizer and community spokesman Kristopher Wells and said later that they've made plans to meet again.
"I said we need to meet and have a conversation about where the right to free speech and freedom of religion begins and where it bumps up against equality rights," Smith told reporters.
"He (Wells) acknowledged he's gone through the same kind of process with members in other political parties because there is a diversity of views."
Smith heard opposing views but met with no organized protest, due in no small part to the venue: a windowless warehouse facility surrounded by cameras and fences topped with razor wire, and with armed officers at every entrance.
A lone demonstrator emerged across the street, carrying a fiery orange sign decorated in red flames bearing the words "Wildrose Bigots Burn in Hell."
He paraded back and forth for five minutes before the assembled media cameras then put the sign down and went inside to join the others.
Wells said he appreciated Smith visiting and learning more about his community, but said she still needs to repair relationships starting with the comments by failed Edmonton Wildrose candidate Alan Hunsperger.
It was one of Hunsperger's blog postings — with its condemnation of gays and gay rights — that helped turn fortune's favour away from his own party in the final days of the April election campaign.
In the posting, Hunsperger scolded the Edmonton Public School Board for tolerating gays and lesbians. He added that to live as a gay person is to "suffer for the rest of eternity in the lake of fire."
His comments took off in the media and were immediately adopted by opponents as shorthand for Wildrose intolerance.
Smith was criticized for refusing to sanction Hunsperger and for not coming down harder on a Calgary candidate who made what some interpreted as racist remarks.
Smith said their views were not Wildrose views and would not be Wildrose policy. But she defended everyone's right to an opinion.
The resulting furor was considered one of the tipping points that turned a potential Wildrose victory into a majority re-election for Redford on April 23.
On Tuesday, Wells said the Hunsperger matter is not closed.
"Myself, like many in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community, are still waiting for Danielle Smith to apologize for those comments," he said.
"There is no apology on record."
Smith wouldn't go there.
"Mr. Hunsperger's views are not my views. They're not the views of my party and they're not the views of my caucus," she said.
"If he wants to seek an apology, he should seek it from Mr. Hunsperger. I believe our party has demonstrated that we're open and when we're elected we represent members from all communities."
Smith's visit was the second by an Alberta politician at Pride week.
On Saturday, Premier Alison Redford made history by attending the Pride parade, taking to the stage and donning the traditional rainbow sash as thousands cheered and chanted her name.
Her government also announced last week that after a three-year hiatus brought on by budget austerity, sex-change surgeries would once again be funded out of the public purse.
Wells said Redford's appearance was a watershed moment for a community that has fought the Tories for years to have basic rights for gay people enshrined in law.
"To have the premier speak at the Pride parade for the first time was historic."
Wells said the decision to reinstate funding for the surgery was equally groundbreaking.
"It represents the first time in the history of this province that the LGBT community has not had to take the government to court and win its rights."
Wells said Smith, on the other hand, doesn't get it.
Smith has said taxpayer dollars for sex-change surgery would be better used for more pressing needs such as insulin pumps and hearing aids.
Wells said gender reassignment surgery is not a frill, but medically necessary.
Smith said her concern is not medical, but political. She said the decision came out of the premier's office for political reasons, undercutting a process that needs to be based on science and need.
"When you have the premier making political decisions about what gets listed and what gets delisted, that's what's destabilizing to our health-care system," she said.
Smith was not at the parade but had she been she would have seen up close that the Lake of Fire won't soon be extinguished.
Pride organizers are doing brisk business this week selling T-shirts that read: "I Stayed at the Lake of Fire and All I got Was This Lousy T-shirt."
Proceeds are to go to a camp for gay and lesbian youth.
Stonewall Inn: Ground Zero
On the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York's Greenwich Village. Although police raids on gays bars were common, the bar's patronage, as well as more than a hundred spectators who gathered outside the bar, decided enough was enough -- they fought back. It was the first time that queer people stood up to police on such a large scale, and is often cited as the beginning of the modern Gay Rights Movement. For more information on Stonewall, check out the PBS documentary, <a href="http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/stonewall/" target="_hplink">Stonewall Uprising</a>. <em>Photo via yosoynuts at <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/yosoynuts/" target="_hplink">Flickr.com </a></em>
Corrupt Cops, Feeds Mafia
In 1969, Stonewall Inn, as well as the majority of the city's gay bars, was owned and operated by the New York Mafia. Establishments that sold alcohol to gay customers could have their liquor licenses revoked, so mobsters paid-off police to turn a blind-eye, thereby gaining a lucrative niche market. For more information about the Mafia's ties to Stonewall, see this <a href="http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/stonewall-mafia/" target="_hplink">PBS report </a>. <em>Photo adapted via Dr. Who at <a href="http://www.flickr.com/people/86931652@N00/" target="_hplink">Flickr.com</a></em>
Stonewall's mafioso owners reportedly engaged in extortion. Employees singled out wealthy patrons who were not public about their sexuality, and blackmailed them for large sums of money with the threat of being 'outed.' For more information about the Mafia's ties to Stonewall, see this <a href="http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/stonewall-mafia/" target="_hplink">PBS report </a>. <em>Photo via Images_of_Money at <a href="http://www.flickr.com/people/59937401@N07/" target="_hplink">Flickr.com</a> and <a href="TaxBrackets.org" target="_hplink">TaxBrackets.org</a></em>
Although the Pride Movement did not galvanize until after the Stonewall Riots, there were a handful of gay rights demonstrations prior to 1969. The most direct link to the early parades were Annual Reminders. Every fourth of July, beginning in 1965, homophilic groups would picket Independence Hall in Philadelphia to inform and remind the American people that LGBT people did not enjoy basic civil rights protections. After Stonewall, picketing seemed too pacifistic, and Reminder organizers instead helped plan the first Gay Liberation parades. <em>Photo via ericbeato at <a href="http://www.flickr.com/people/ericbeato/" target="_hplink">Flickr.com</a></em>
The Greek Lambda symbol was another commonly used Gay Rights symbol prior to the Rainbow Flag, and was the sign of the Gay Activist Aliance. Photo via <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Greek_lc_lamda_thin.svg" target="_hplink">Wikimedia Commons</a>
The First Flag
The first rainbow flag made its debut at the San Francisco Pride Parade in 1978. Designed by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker, the original flag was hand-dyed and consisted of eight symbolic colors: Hot Pink (sexuality), Red (life), Orange (healing), Yellow (sunlight), Green (nature), Turqoise (magic/art), Blue (serenity/harmony) and violet (spirit). <em>Photo via <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gay_flag_8.svg" target="_hplink">Wikimedia Commons</a> </em>
To meet increasing demand for the flag, Baker approached Paramount Flag Company for mass production. There was an unavailability of hot pink baric, so Baker dropped the hot pink stripe from the design. To keep an even number of stripes, turquoise was also dropped, resulting in the six-stripe flag that is widely used today. <em>Photo via torbakhopper at <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/gazeronly/" target="_hplink">Flickr.com</a> </em>
'Gay' Becomes Okay
The first gay rights group to use the word 'gay' in their name was the Gay Liberation Front, which was formed In the immediate wake of the Stonewall Riots. Whereas previous organizations, such as the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis, had deliberately chosen obscure names, the GLF believed directedness was necessary, as exemplified by a slogan on one of their fliers: "Do You Think Homosexuals Are Revolting? You Bet Your Sweet Ass We Are!" For more information on the GLF, check out <a href="http://www.outhistory.org/wiki/Gay_Liberation_Front" target="_hplink">this site</a>. <em>Photo via Elvert Barnes at <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/perspective/" target="_hplink">Flickr.com</a></em>
Oldest LGBT Organization
The oldest surviving LGBT organization in the world is Netherland's Center for Culture and Leisure (COC), which was founded in 1946, and used a 'cover name' to mask its taboo purpose. For more information on the COC, check out their <a href="http://www.coc.nl/dopage.pl?thema=any&pagina=algemeen&algemeen_id=274" target="_hplink">site</a>. <em>Photo via Tambako the Jaguar at <a href="http://www.flickr.com/people/tambako/" target="_hplink">Flickr.com</a>.</em>
Wild in the San Francisco Woods
In 1976, San Francisco's Getty Center was undergoing renovation, and couldn't host the post-Pride parade celebrations. Instead, the festival site was moved to the Golden Gate Park. Confronted with uncharacteristically intense heat, many attendees shed most, or all, of their clothing. When the sound system failed, scantily-clad celebrators took to the woods for shade and entertainment, and the festival became one of the craziest San Francisco has ever seen. A year later, the 'Save Our Children' campaign cited the wild wood celebrations as evidence of homosexual godlessness and immorality. For a firsthand account of this, and other, Pride festivals in San Francisco, <a href="http://thecastro.net/parade/parade/parade.html" target="_hplink">click here</a>. Photo via jdnx at <a href="www.flickr.com/people/danramarch/" target="_hplink">Flickr.com</a>
The Rise of 'Pride'
Early marches commonly used 'Gay Liberation,' and 'Freedom,' in their names. Then, with cultural changes and decreased militancy in the 1980s and 1990s, these words became less frequent, and the term 'Gay Pride,' became commonly used. <em>Photo via illuminator999 at <a href="www.flickr.com/people/illuminator999/" target="_hplink">Flickr.com</a></em>
In 1994, Baker led the creation of a mile-long Rainbow Flag, to honor the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. The Guinness Book of World Records recognized it as the world's largest flag. <em>Photo via <a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Thelmadatter" target="_hplink">Thelmadatter</a> at <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:HugeFlagMarchaDF2.JPG" target="_hplink">Wikimedia Commons</a></em>
Island-Long Pride Flag
The longest Rainbow Flag used in a Pride celebration was unfurled in Key West, Florida, for the flag's 25th anniversary in 2003. Dubbed "25Rainbow Sea to Sea," the 1.25 mile long flag stretched across the entire island, traveling from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf Coast Sea. Following the celebration, the flag was cut-up and sent to Pride celebrations around the world. <em>Photo via torbakhopper at <a href="http://www.flickr.com/people/gazeronly/" target="_hplink">Flickr.com</a> </em>
Pride in Sao Paulo
With an estimated 3.5 million attendees in 2011, Sao Paulo, Brazil, hosts the world's largest Pride parade. For more information about Sao Paulo Pride, check out their <a href="http://www.gaypridebrazil.org/sao-paulo/" target="_hplink">site</a>.
Europe has a pan-European international Pride event, called, appropriately, Europride. The event is hosted by a different European city each year. For information on upcoming events, check out Europride's <a href="http://www.europride.com/spip.php?rubrique1" target="_hplink">site</a>. <em>Photo via Daquellamanera at <a href="http://www.flickr.com/people/daquellamanera/" target="_hplink">Flickr.com</a> </em>
Amsterdam hosts the only Pride parade whose floats literally float on water, as 100 decorated boats travel through the city's famed canals. For information on Amsterdam Pride, check out their <a href="http://www.amsterdamgaypride.nl/" target="_hplink">site</a>. <em>Photo via cgeorgatou at <a href="http://www.flickr.com/people/cgeorgatou/" target="_hplink">Flickr.com</a></em>
Loner South Africa
South Africa is home to the only Pride celebrations on the African continent. Two of the most notable are in<a href="http://joburgpride.org/" target="_hplink"> Johannesburg</a> and <a href="http://www.capetownpride.org/" target="_hplink">Cape Town</a>. The inaugural Joburg Pride parade was held in 1990 with fewer than one thousand participants but has grown considerably throughout the years, with over 20,000 participants in 2009. <em>Photo via <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gay_Flag_of_South_Africa.svg" target="_hplink">Wikimedia Commons </a></em>
Raining on Australia's Parade
Each year before the <a href="http://www.mardigras.org.au/about-us/history/index.cfm" target="_hplink">Sydney LGBT Mardis Gras</a> is held, <a href="http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/the-power-of-one/2008/01/04/1198950075839.html" target="_hplink">Fred Nile</a>, a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council and a former minister of the Uniting Church in Australia, leads a prayer for rain on the event. Although it has rained some years, the Australian event has sustained as one of best LGBT festivals in the world. Photo via Jon Shave at <a href="http://www.flickr.com/people/shavejonathan/" target="_hplink">Flickr.com</a>