The muted blue of well-worn denim. The dusty brown of broken-in boots. The crisp white of a new cowboy hat. For more than 120 years, these were the time-honored shades of the Calgary Stampede, an annual rodeo, exhibition, and festival that attracts more than a million visitors to Alberta’s Stampede Park for 10 days each July.
Over the last half-decade, Stampede attendees have likely noticed a steadily growing splash of other, brighter colors. They’ve probably even spotted a few rainbows. That’s because 2017 marked the fifth anniversary of Gay Day, an unofficial Stampede event introduced by Environmental Services business center sector lead Charles Macmichael (Calgary, Alberta) and other Calgarians to make the rough-and-tumble Western celebration more comfortable for people from the LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Queer or Questioning, and others) community.
(Image) Charles at Gay Day at Calgary Stampede 2017
A Warm Welcome
Gay Day, which is the first (and the only so far) LGBTQ+ event at the Calgary Stampede, started in 2012 as a Facebook event Charles shared with his friends. In that first year, the attendees could have been counted on two hands.
Just five years later, Gay Day drew nearly 800 revelers, many adorned with Stampede-issued rainbow-colored cowboy boot stickers. Charles also introduced the Western Trailblazer award, represented by a Pride belt buckle, to recognize a member of the community who has made a difference for LGBTQ+ people in Calgary. This award was made possible with the support of the Stampede and BMO Bank of Montreal.
“Gay Day started as a way to get together with friends to enjoy Stampede—which is such an important part of our city’s social fabric—in a safe, fun way,” Charles says. “The fact that it’s transformed into a huge event shows how many people need and welcome inclusion.”
(Image) Charles presenting Western Trailblazer award at Gay Day during the Calgary Stampede 2017
Charles now has his sights on a new project, one close to home: working with colleagues to initiate LGBTQ+ employee resource groups (ERG) at Stantec. (An ERG is made up of people who share a common interest, background, or cause and who voluntarily work together to support a diverse workforce and inclusive workplace.)
Charles and several coworkers, including Calgary’s Dan Clancy and Josh Workman, as well as Edmonton’s Travis Park and Ruth O’Haire, want to make sure people feel comfortable being who they are at Stantec and together they plan to create inclusive events that welcome LGBTQ+ colleagues and their allies, friends, and supporters.
“People may not identify as LGBTQ+ but may have a friend or family member in that community that they support, so they join our ERG,” he says. “We’re a community, a family. We’re here to support each other.”
A Hit Parade
“I think most people can relate to walking into a room, for something like a job interview, unsure how much to share about who you are. For those in the LGBTQ+ community, that hesitation to open up can be even stronger,” Charles says. “I’ve been there myself, but was lucky to realize that Stantec is a place that not only embraces the diversity of our 22,000 employees, but also celebrates it.”
Charles plans to proclaim Stantec’s support of diversity big-time this year. Working with the Edmonton colleagues who launched Stantec’s first Edmonton Pride Day float in June of 2017, Charles organized the Calgary office’s first float in Calgary Pride’s Parade in September 2017, and plans to do it all again in 2018’s Pride celebrations which takes place between August 24 and September 3.
(Image) Charles and Stantec colleagues at Calgary Pride Parade 2017
Despite all these commitments, Charles also finds time to also volunteer with Pride at Work Canada, an organization that empowers employers to foster workplace cultures that recognize LGBT employees as an important part of a diverse and effective workforce.
A Tip of the Hat
Charles’ efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. In 2017, he was nominated for the Entrepreneurial Heart Award from Calgary Outlook, which recognizes those who have gone above and beyond to make a difference for the LGBTQ+ community. But for Charles, the best reward is knowing that he’s making a difference for individuals who need support.
“Like everyone, I’m busy at work and at home, juggling 100 different priorities,” Charles says. “I often struggle to find the energy to take on organizing events like Gay Day, or volunteering with Pride at Work Canada, or participating in the LGBTQ+ ERG. Then I hear from a colleague or client who’s grateful that Stantec supports these initiatives, and my drive to take an active role returns. All of us, whatever our orientation or background, add value to our communities. We all have a voice, and a right to be heard.”