There were two films that Mike Morrison saw soon after he came out that made an impression.
One was the Gus Van Sant biopic Milk, with Sean Penn starring as politician and gay rights activist Harvey Milk.
“Obviously he gets murdered,” Morrison says with a horrified laugh, while sitting on the patio of Kensington’s Oak Tree Tavern.
“It’s just like, ‘Oh, my god. I’m going back in the closet! I can’t do this.’ ”
Obviously and thankfully he didn’t, instead following the film subject’s lead and using his voice as a blogger on the popular Mike’s Bloggity Blog site and through various social media channels to champion, support and defend the LGBTQ community.
Since then, he’s become one of Calgary’s most vocal members of the LGBTQ community, speaking out about injustices — ex. the fact that gay men still can’t donate blood in this country — and in many cases butting heads with politicians and other leaders over their policies and platforms that threaten the freedoms of those who are openly out.
And the second film that left its mark on him soon after he made the decision himself?
That was Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride, a 2009 documentary that looks at several, very different Pride celebrations around the globe.
“It was very eye-opening for me,” he says, “because one of my hesitations about first saying I was gay was I didn’t identify with any of the gay culture I was seeing.”
The East Coast-born Morrison points to cliched images of “shirtless guys in leather pants” that, as a 24-year-old, he thought was how gay men were supposed to look and act, as opposed to the simple fact that they can look and act however they want.
More than that, though, was the film also showed for some, Pride isn’t just about a party, about celebrating one’s sexuality, it can actually be as serious as life-and-death and should hold a great amount of meaning to those marching in it.
“It really ignited something that people need to know what Pride is actually about,” he says.
“I wanted people to experience what this movie did for me because it really set me on this path.”
He continues. “I want Calgarians to know it’s very scary — what the Pride Parade is, it’s very brave for the organizers to plan it, it’s very brave for the people to walk in it.
“But also walking in it actually means something. It’s not the Calgary Stampede Parade, it’s a human rights march and I think that sometimes gets lost.”
Which is why Morrison is screening Beyond Gay on the first Monday of Pride — Aug. 28 — at The Plaza Theatre.
Tickets for the screening are $5, with all the proceeds after room rental going to Camp fYrefly, which describes itself as this country’s only “national leadership retreat for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-identified, two-spirited, intersexed, queer, questioning, and allied youth.”
The film follows Vancouver Pride Society president Ken Coolen to disparate celebrations around the world, including: events such as Toronto’s, which are more about what Morrison calls “the fabulous gayness”; and the ones that are “human rights parades,” such as in Russia, “where they throw two Pride Parades: one that the public knows about and everyone gets the shit kicked out of them; and then the secret one so that they can actually have one,” he says noting that it’s become much worse since the film was shot.
And of course the screening will be in the midst of Calgary’s own Pride Week, which leads into Sunday, Sept. 3’s Parade — itself a hot topic in town for a number of reasons, most notably the decision by organizers to not let Calgary Police Service members march in their uniforms and the exclusion of the newly formed United Conservative Party because of a lack of a formal LGBTQ policy.
Morrison, who’s not officially affiliated with Pride Calgary, notes that this city’s relationship with Pride Parade has always been a “weird” one, with it going from participants wearing “masks to corporate sponsorship relatively quickly.”
“I think Calgarians are seeing how layered and complicated it is,” he says.
“For the last couple of years, they got a Pride Parade that was really just a fun parade — and it is fun. It’s the most family-friendly parade anyone will ever go to. I argue that it’s actually more family-friendly than the Stampede Parade.”
He thinks that this year’s event is something of a “reset button,” which should allow people to discuss and appreciate what Pride Parade is supposed to be about, no matter what side you’re on.
Although, that said, he also admits that the community, itself, isn’t entirely on the same page when it comes to the issues surrounding it.
“It shows that our community is divided, just like any other community,” he says, acknowledging he’s had more debates with those in the LGBTQ world than with straight people in the past month about the police and UCP issues.
On those topics, Morrison, again, never a wallflower when it comes to issues such as these and admittedly a man who comes at many things in life in a “black-and-white” way, finds himself being a little more restrained.
He explains that all of his interactions with the Calgary Police Services as an openly gay individual have been nothing but positive.
“I’m also willing to believe that maybe experiences aren’t the same as mine for other members of our community,” he says, noting that as a gay white man, he can’t know what someone of colour, a transgendered person or anyone who identifies themselves other than that have experienced in their lives.
“Same with the political stuff — I want there to be an end. So I do want the police in their uniforms, but I’m willing to take a step back, take a deep breath, and say, ‘OK, maybe there are issues that I don’t know about.’
“At the end of the day, it’s an LGBTQ parade, not a Calgary police parade, so if I have to choose I’m more concerned that LGBTQ people feel safe at the Parade.”
And ultimately, Morrison hopes that we can all move forward, progress in our interactions with one another in a more understanding way.
To him, Pride Week still does mean something and still does have immeasurable value.
Yes, great strides have been made, but things for openly out people in this city, in this country are “still not great.”
He describes a Canada Day interaction where an inebriated individual who, as he was watching the fireworks, confronted him, asked him forcefully: “Are you gay?”
And he also points to a recent Twitter conversation he had with former Calgary Stampeder and LGBTQ champion Jon Cornish about Saturday, Aug. 26’s Stamps game, which is billed as Pride Night at McMahon Stadium.
“I said, ‘I don’t want to just go to a Pride game,’ ” Morrison says simply. “’ I want to be able to go to a regular CFL game and know that I can hold my boyfriend’s hand and not be called a ‘faggot.’
“And I don’t think I can.”
Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride screens Monday, Aug. 28 at The Plaza Theatre. For tickets, please click here.