07/24/2019 20:23 EDT | Updated 07/25/2019 08:49 EDT

Alberta’s Political Parties Latest Groups Barred From Calgary Pride Parade

Parade organizers won't permit any of the provincial parties to march this year.

Rachel Notley/Facebook, Alberta Party/Facebook, CP
Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley at Calgary Pride in 2018, members of the Alberta Party at a 2018 Edmonton Pride event and Alberta UCP leader and Premier Jason Kenney at a rally. 

Don’t expect to see NDP orange or United Conservative blue at this year’s Calgary Pride Parade.

In a first for the event, provincial political parties have been barred from participating in the parade, which is set for Sept. 1 this year. 

Lana Bentley, a former candidate and now volunteer with the Alberta Party who was organizing the party’s involvement in Pride, said she received a call from parade organizers to break the news. 

“They said there was a jury this year, and the jury had worked together to determine who would be in the march and specified that this year they’ve made the decision that political parties would not be marching,” Bentley told HuffPost. 

While the decision includes applications from all provincial political parties including the Alberta Party, the Alberta New Democratic Party and the United Conservative Party, it is unclear if municipal or federal parties or groups would also be barred from formal participation in the event.

In a statement on their website, the board for Calgary Pride said they stand behind the decision to bar the political parties.

“The Calgary Pride Board sorted the list of parade applicants ranking them from highest to lowest scores, and subsequently determined the best course of action was to not approve any political parties,” the statement said.

According to Calgary Pride, the Alberta NDP met the criteria to be approved to march in the parade, but a number of jury members requested to have no parties march at all rather than just one. 

Facebook/Alberta Party
Members of the Alberta Party pictured at Pride celebrations in Edmonton in 2018.

Calgary Pride marks the only Pride celebration in a major Alberta city, after Edmonton Pride was recently cancelled following tensions around police participation in the event. 

Bentley said organizers told her part of the decision had to do with the number of groups set to march this year as well as the event’s shifting mandate. She said she was disappointed, but understood why they made the call.

“You know, we have folks on our team who are already moving towards what kind of t-shirts are we going to design,” she said. “But at the end of the day, our party is respectful of the process. We would never want our involvement or lack thereof to eclipse the mandate of these sorts of events.”

Kristopher Wells, a professor at MacEwan University in Edmonton who specializes in LGBTQ+ and queer studies, says the move to ban all parties is unprecedented in Canada.

“I haven’t seen that happen in Canada before,” Wells told HuffPost Canada. “Certainly over the past number of years, individual parties have been rejected from participating in the Pride parade in particular, but I’ve not yet seen an outright ban.”

He said that while barring all political parties prevents the ones with less than ideal track records on LGBTQ+ issues from partaking, it also risks alienating supportive politicians.

“Alberta’s always been a very politically fraught province when it comes to LGBTQ+  issues,” Wells said. “So some would question why you want to alienate those parties that have stood beside you through thick and thin to advocate for LGBTQ issues by not allowing them to participate in the Pride parade.”

Political Pride 

Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party’s application to march in the Calgary event was previously denied in 2017 and 2018. The party’s application to march in Edmonton Pride in 2018 was also denied. However, its parent parties — the Wildrose Party and Progressive Conservative Party — did make appearances at the event in the past. 

The Alberta NDP have frequently appeared at Pride events, including self-identified “ML-Gays” — LGBTQ+ members of the caucus. The current banner photo on the Alberta NDP caucus website is of party leader Rachel Notley at Edmonton Pride last year. 

A screenshot of the front page of the official Alberta NDP caucus website.

In a statement to HuffPost, Alberta NDP spokesperson Leah Ward said her party was “deeply disappointed” with this year’s decision to ban the party from marching in Pride.

“Pride is, and always has been, political. As such, it is partisan,” Ward said.

Ward’s statement argued that the Alberta NDP has championed LGBTQ+ rights and pointed to how their track record differs from the United Conservative Party.

“Treating the two parties, and more importantly, the two records, similarly, negates the important work that has been done and still needs to be done in our legislature to ensure that Alberta’s laws and policies truly support the fair, inclusive and equal lives of all those who are members of the LGBTQ2S+ community,” the statement read. 

The United Conservative Party did not respond to a request for comment.

WATCH: Rachel Notley had the best weekend ever at Edmonton Pride. Story continues below.

Shifting parades

Alberta’s political parties are the latest high-profile groups to be barred from pride celebrations in Western Canada. 

This week, the Vancouver Pride Society announced that the Vancouver Public Library would not be permitted to march in the event there as an institution, after it hosted notorious transphobic speaker Meghan Murphy for an event. 

That barring follows the barring of the University of British Columbia from the event for similar reasons. 

“We are hopeful that UBC will create changes in policy and practice to support their entire campus community,” a statement from the Vancouver Pride Society announcing the barring reads. “Until then, UBC will not be able to participate as an institution at our events.” 

And Pride events around the world, including Toronto and Vancouver, have barred uniformed police from participating in Pride parades. 

Wells says recent decisions to bar specific groups from Pride events is part of a reconsideration of the purpose of these events and a shift back towards their grassroots community origins. 

“These are issues that are really being addressed quite differently at local levels all across the country,” he said. “Ultimately people are returning to the questions — what is Pride? What does it mean 50 years later, to our communities after the celebration of the Stonewall riots? And what are the future directions going to be?” 

Update: This story has been updated with a statement from Calgary Pride.