Calgary does not have a long history of supporting the LGBTQ-Ally community, but the University of Calgary is making up for lost time. With 2011's highly successful Pride Parade, featuring Naheed Nenshi as the first Calgarian Mayor to be Parade Marshal, Calgary is coming out as a progressive city.
The university has been a leader in diversity over the years, with the long-active Queers on Campus student club, initiatives like the "It Gets Better" campaign led by the Student Success Centre, and the opening of the Q Centre in November 2010.
University of Calgary alumna Aleesha Bray has been fighting this fight on various projects like It Gets Better, and will be the producer and lead organizer for the Third Annual University of Calgary Coming Out Monologues happening March 15 and 16.
"It is really being produced by the whole community," explains Bray. "We have had people step in to help with poster design, and to do photography, and to build the event, and to do art installation pieces, and we are giving the proceeds of our tickets to Camp fYrefly [Canada's only summer camp for LGBTQ youth] as well so everyone has really come together in support of the event."
To promote the event, community organizations such as the Q Centre, the Students' Union, and GayCalgary magazine have been rallying on their behalf. They have also been engaging with students through classroom talks, especially to large first-year courses. Fourteen U of C professors requested presentations in their lectures.
However, it's a little-known fact that the U of C was the first Canadian university to hold a performance of the monologues in 2010. Based on Eve Ensler's popular work The Vagina Monologues, the Coming Out Monologues is a community-based theatre project created by University of California, Riverside undergraduate Rodrigo Hernandez in 2007.
"I think it is so important to share stories," says Bray. "There is obviously a lot more work to do in terms of social movements. I think a really important part of that is sharing stories of the individual as well, and realizing that everyone does have really different experiences and yet there are some similarities and there is strength in that."
While there are scripted stories organizers may draw from, what makes the Coming Out Monologues unique is that the original creators suggest each campus use their own script. A statement on the UCR Queer Alliance website says, "UCR students have made the 2007 script available for use, but each campus has the opportunity to empower their own community to share their own stories."
Keeping with this tradition, performances at the U of C have changed year-to-year. The 2012 event, however, will certainly shake things up with twice as many performers as the previous year and two unique nights of performances that treat the topic in newer, edgier ways.
"We really wanted to have a cross-generational approach, so we have performers ranging from the age of 17 to 70 . . . we are really excited about that because we think it sheds an interesting light on the different experiences that people have had coming out over the years . . . especially in Alberta," Bray remarks.
Part of this new approach involves using multimedia throughout the performance, with a special focus on young emerging talent. This will include an art installation, audience interaction, professional hula-hooping, live music and comedy performers. The edgy side of this year's performance is the addition of critical material regarding acceptance within the LGBTQA community and the experience of coming out.
"I think those stories are important, too, because I think we need to see where these issues are arising and look for solutions," says Bray.