**Portions of the content in this article may be distressing and traumatizing for some people.**
CANMORE – A local business is under fire following an email response to Canmore Pride about sponsoring an upcoming event as part of Pride week.
The email, which came from Jeff von Rotz, an owner of Valbella Gourmet Foods, was in reply to Canmore Pride reaching out about potentially sponsoring an inclusive and free climbing event with Crush Collective that was planning a barbeque as part of the Sept. 15-18 pride festival.
The email response from von Rotz told Canmore Pride he would not help since “you could not pay me to sponsor anything to do with child grooming tranny’s.”
His email said the organization and its supporters should stay away from kids in the community and “you should be disgusted with yourself.”
“I’m sure there’s some woke organization mentally ill enough to help you with your event, but it isn’t Valbella’s.”
An attempt to contact von Rotz was unsuccessful.
In an emailed statement, Chantal von Rotz a co-owner of Valbella, said the business “expresses its deepest apologies to the Canmore LBGTQ+ community for an intolerant email that was sent earlier today by one of our former team members.”
“The individual responsible has been removed from the company and its operations.”
A subsequent email asking for clarification of von Rotz no longer having involvement in the company, if he voluntarily resigned or if other potential owners fired him and what inclusionary training the company will undergo has yet to be answered. The Outlook will update the story when we hear back.
In a statement, Kaitlin Kealey, the co-chair for Canmore Pride, pointed to an upcoming training program put together between Canmore Pride and Banff Pride as potentially helping businesses and organizations become “more safe and inclusive spaces.”
“The transphobic reply we received from a local business today further reinforces the importance of education in our community to keep members of our community safe,” Kealey said. “We encourage members of our community to take care of themselves in this time and know they are loved and supported by many.”
Kealey said for those needing support the Calgary Distress Centre is available at 403-266-4357 and the Canada Trans Life Line is 1-877-330-6366.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) said they have services available at www.ahs.ca/helpintoughtimes or the Mental Health Helpline at 1-877-303-2642.
“Alberta Health Services is committed to creating an environment that is safer and more inclusive for everyone, and we are available to help and support anyone who may have been impacted by recent comments made about LGTBQIA2S+ members in our communities,” said Kerry Williamson, a communications officer with AHS.
Canmore Mayor Sean Krausert said the Town of Canmore stands with the LGBTQIA2S+ community that “make this town a more vibrant and diverse place to call home.”
“We all belong. We are all valuable members of the community,” he said. “We are enriched and stronger in spirit when we embrace all the wonderful culture, experiences, skills and identities that individuals have to offer.”
He added municipal buildings and programs are safe spaces for all people and the Canadian Mental Health Association has a list of resources and supports for those in need.
Aurora Borin, a Banff resident and organizer with Banff Pride, said it’s disappointing to see the views expressed by von Rotz continue to be held by some people.
Borin teaches diversity equity and inclusion to individuals, groups and organizations in the Bow Valley and said experiencing it in the community you live in is different than teaching and learning about it.
“I’m still processing it. I spend my days teaching this, reading articles on why people disparage the trans community or the gay community. I teach it and hearing or reading it from somebody I could point out on the street or a store I know that I’ve bought from is an entirely different experience,” Borin said. “It makes me feel unsafe. I’m not alone in saying that. I’ve had so many messages from other trans people in the valley saying they’ve never heard this and thought our community was better than this.
“I think it’s important to remember that much of our community is better than this. It’s all of our responsibility to live here stand up and say that’s not where we live. Whether we’re trans or not or gay or not, this is all of our community and it’s on all of us to come together and build it up.”
Canmore Pride held its first festival week last year, which featured a wide range of festivities that included Queer History Hour at the Canmore Museum, beers with queers at Sauvage, drag queen story time and a parade in downtown Canmore.
The Town installed a Pride crosswalk in May 2021, raised a Pride Flag at the Canmore Civic Centre and several other events were run to support the LGBTQIA2S+ community.
Though only taking place for its first time, the event gained significant support and involvement in the community.
The Canmore Pride Festival comes in the wake of Banff Pride – run by the Banff Pride Society – which will have its 10th anniversary this year.
Banff Pride regularly has packed events for the week-long celebration, with support coming from local organizations.
Borin said Canmore Pride and Banff Pride have been working together for the past six months to create the Bow Valley Affirming Network document that will be released this summer.
The intent is to create guidelines for businesses and organizations in the Bow Valley to help be more LGBTQIA2S+ aware and support the community.
Borin said the idea came from Calgary’s Skipping Stone Foundation – an organization that helps trans and gender people and educates groups.
“An event like this has been a really good reminder of how important it is,” Borin said. “A lot of people don’t want to support places that hold views like we’re seeing today. … What we’re finding more of is people are shopping with their values and are even taking jobs with their values.”
Diversity, equity and inclusion training sessions can focus on language such as understanding what asexual, non-binary and transgender mean and why it’s important to discuss the differences.
In July, Borin has done 14 sessions and it can result in something as small as merchandise, signs or displays being removed from a store because they were unintentionally offensive to an organization establishing belief statements to show what is important for them.
“The antidote to homophobia and transphobia is education. … From there, we can make this place better and help people be better.
“It’s every one of those steps that counts and every one of those steps that makes our community a better place.”