UCalgary connectors who are making a difference for LGBTQ2S+ communities: Part 2

Meet consultant Kevin Allen, community support worker Katie O’Brie, and student Jer Bobosky. Celebrate Calgary Pride Aug. 26 - Sept. 5
Kevin Allen, Katie O’Brien, and Jer Bobosky
From left: Kevin Allen, Katie O’Brien and Jer Bobosky.

From drag queens and social workers to economists and writers, here are snapshots of people who, through their work, are positively impacting the LGBTQ2S+ community.

Kevin Allen, BSc’93 (Neuroscience/Zoology); he/him

Kevin Allen

Kevin Allen

  • Job: Consultant for non-profit organizations; longtime research lead of the Calgary Gay History Project; first historian-in-residence at the Central Library; one of the founders of the Calgary Fairy Tales Queer Film Festival; author of Our Past Matters: Stories of Gay Calgary; co-producer of A Queer Map: A Guide to the LGBTQ+ History of Calgary.
  • Favourite gay icon: “It changes all the time, but right now it’s English author Radclyffe Hall, who wrote The Well of Loneliness in 1929. I love the fact that she was so unapologetic about being a lesbian — it’s a seminal piece of groundbreaking literature.”

Kevin Allen is grateful. Fifty years ago, it was a crime to be gay but now, he says, “at Pride, we are tripping over rainbows. That’s fast. To witness such changes in one lifetime is incredible.”

It’s really Allen, BSc’93, however, who we need to thank as he is the man (along with filmmaker Laura O’Grady) whose film about Calgarian Everett Klippert (the last man in Canada to be jailed for being gay and whose case pressured the federal government to decriminalize same-sex acts in 1969) went on to garner awards, as has the Fairy Tales Queer Film Festival (founded in 1999); the Calgary Gay History Project (now 10 years old, which Allen dubs his lifelong passion project); his bestselling book, Our Past Matters: Stories of Gay Calgary; and A Queer Map: A Guide to the LGBTQ+ History of Calgary.

In fact, you can join Allen on a walking tour of Calgary’s gay history during Pride, when he regales people with arcane bits of history while stopping at some of the 30 locations on the map. Seven of those historic sites are on UCalgary’s main campus, which Allen describes a “hotbed for gay activists in the ’70s.” Who knew that Harold Call, a gay publisher and activist, spoke in the old Mac Hall Ballroom in 1969 on the topic of Homosexuality: a Police Industry? Or that Blue Jeans Day in the 1990s was an annual event originally intended to raise awareness of gay rights on campus? Or that the title of CJSW Radio’s first show dedicated to LGBTQ2S+ was titled Speak Sebastian?

It was the summer of 1990 when then-19-year-old Allen came out to his parents. “My mother had a deep fear about AIDS and thought it was a death sentence for me,” recalls Allen, who left his parents’ home shortly after to, he says, “start my ‘Big Queer Life.’” He began finding his voice as an activist by freelance writing for gay publications and the rest, as they say, is history. Gay history.

From Club Carousel (Calgary’s first gay bar, which opened in 1970) to Calgary’s latest park, Lois Szabo Commons (dedicated to one of the first outspoken leaders in Calgary’s LGBTQ2S+ community), to Mac Hall and beyond — Allen’s hope for Pride 2022 is not only that people get curious about our city’s gay history, but also, he says, “that we understand that other people’s lived experiences are different than ours. Right now, we live in a very angry society. We need to start by defaulting to kindness.”

Katie O’Brien, BA’16 (Sociology), about to start their Master of Social Work at University of Victoria in the fall; they/them

Katie O’Brien

Katie O’Brien

  • Job: Sexual and gender-based violence student support adviser at UCalgary; previously worked at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary (now Trellis), UCalgary’s Q Centre, and Centre for Sexuality.
  • Favourite gay icon: “I feel weird about this question my friends are my icons! but, if I had to pick a human I don’t know personally, I’d probably go with [writer] Kai Cheng Thom.”

Long before BuzzFeed quizzes were a thing, Katie O’Brien, as a teenager, was asking Mr. Google: “What does ‘gay’ mean?” “Am I queer?” “How can I be sure?”

Access to “information in a child- or teen-friendly, community-centred way would have been so helpful,” says O’Brien, BA’16, adding that, at the time, the way classes in school taught about relationships and sexuality were taught, “Well, none of them were ever geared to people like me.”

Today, the conversations O’Brien sees on TikTok and in pockets of our community leave the social worker “blown away,” ardently believing “the kids are all right.”

But that doesn’t mean gender rights and events such a Pride should be treated as anachronisms.

“In the wake of horrifying legislation and regressions to the south, and in Canada, by people who are pushing back on the progress we’ve made means we need to continue to agitate politically for our rights,” says O’Brien, whose favourite part of Pride has traditionally been the Treaty 7 Dyke and Trans March, “where I am surrounded by community members who are working toward the same goals.”

As for O’Brien’s many job and volunteer positions within the LGBTQ2S+ community, a favourite was volunteering at Camp fYrefly (a retreat for LGBTQ2S+ youth). “It was a wonderful space for folks to try out different things and have important conversations,” O’Brien says. “It’s the kind of space I’d love to see more of.”

Besides being inspired by future generations and their leaders, O’Brien loves seeing the movement shift away from all-white LGBTQ2S+ icons such as Harvey Milk (the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California). “The people I am learning so much from these days are queer and trans women of colour, Indigenous, racialized folks. In Calgary, there is great leadership in these circles by folks like Tyra Erskine [BA'17] and Alyjah Neil [BSW'18, MSW'21] and on campus we have exceptional folks including Joshua Whitehead [PhD'21], Vivek Shraya and Mackenzie Beaupré [BSW'21], who are doing such cool work.”

Jer Bobosky, third-year philosophy and political science student at UCalgary; they/them

Jer Bobosky

Jer Bobosky

  • Current job: Summer position at UCalgary’s Writing Symbols Lodge, working with the Indigenous Student Access Program. At the age of 12, the member of Little Red River Cree Nation became a video game commentator and now has two YouTube channels (JerDude and TF Legends) boasting more than 200,000 followers.
  • Favourite Gay Icon: Lady Gaga. “Born this Way will be forever burned into my brain.”

Interested in the philosophy of language, restoring Indigenous land control and working toward reconciliation, Jer Bobosky admits they are new to Calgary’s queer community. It was only through hanging around Writing Symbols Lodge at UCalgary that Bobosky embraced their queerness and began presenting openly.

Besides writing essays and discussing their two-spirit identity in small university classes, Bobosky intends to shift the format of their YouTube channels to something broader that includes gender issues. Initially lacking the vocabulary to express their queerness, it wasn’t until three months ago that Bobosky told their immediate family that they were a two-spirit, non-binary transfeminine individual who had started a medical transition.

It took a month for some family members to process Bobosky’s news, but the student, who is eyeing a career in academia, now says, “Communication has improved, and I feel closer to them.”

Where once two-spirit people were revered in many Indigenous cultures, that is not true today, says Bobosky, explaining that “about 80 years ago, there was a shift to binary understanding of gender and widespread adoption of Catholicism.”

Having learned about their queerness online, Bobosky sees the growing number of queer people on TikTok and the topics they explore as a colossal community-builder “with space for leaders to develop.” Some of Bobosky’s favourite TikTok accounts include @deadlynim, @tiamiscihk, @lakeeyshamarie and @shinanova.