This weekend marked the 35th anniversary of the Western Cup in Calgary.
It’s the longest running LGBTQ sports festival in North America and Calgary has hosted the multi-sport tournament over the past 35 years.
Sports at the event include curling, volleyball and hockey held at various Calgary venues over the weekend.
“Everybody always assumes that Calgary is so conservative and not really open to the LGBTQ community but it’s been so positive and accepting of this event and a lot of the straight community has been getting involved. Just to see that support from Calgary is just amazing,” director of the Western Cup XXXV, TJ Fedyk, said.
Organizers said it’s important to have an event like this for athletes who are gay to have an area where they can feel safe and comfortable.
“There are still a lot of sports where gay athletes aren’t accepted or don’t feel welcomed and here they can be themselves. They can play at the level they want and feel comfortable and not have to worry about anything,” Fedyk said.
Over 500 athletes from across Canada took part in the Western Cup.
Organizers said there are still stereotypes that need to be broken down about gays not being athletic.
Keith Knudsen grew up in Calgary and enjoys triathlons but he started curling at this event six-years ago.
“It’s a great opportunity to curl with your best buds,” Knudsen said. ”I think something like this is really important to show the community that we’re just a bunch of guys having fun with each other and it’s OK to be gay and playing sports.”
Fedyk says there has been plenty of support from Calgary’s professional sports teams through the You Can Play program, a project which has worked with all major sports leagues to help foster an environment of acceptance and make sports a place where gay athletes can feel comfortable living their lives in the open.
Professional athletes coming out recently have helped too.
“It’s very important for them to come out because being gay growing up, the stereotype is gays can’t play sports. If they are gay they feel like they can’t play. But to have all these athletes come out and say, ‘hey look what I’m doing’. For the youth that are coming out, it’s definitely showing them I can play whatever I want,” Fedyk said.
The Western Cup also raises funds for several organizations including the You Can Play project.