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Gender Bender moved off-campus after SU policy change

By Melanie Woods, January 20 2016 —

After over a decade of celebrating drag on the University of Calgary campus, student club Queers on Campus’ annual Gender Bender cabaret will move from the Den to an off campus location for 2017.

The move follows a change in Students’ Union policy. Previously, clubs looking to host cabarets at the Den would pay a $500 deposit that was returned if the event made over $2,000 in liquor sales. Under the new policy, clubs pay a flat fee of $1,550 for the Den or $1,250 for the Black Lounge — a fee that is not returned.

Queers on Campus president Zack Wierzbicki said the policy change makes it harder for student clubs to host cabarets.

“This is such an awesome way for clubs to raise funding for themselves and cut a lot of that overhead cost out of it,” Wierzbicki said. “But if you make it so you have to have $1,500 before you can even try, that means a lot of clubs can’t.”

Gender Bender usually draws 200–300 people annually and features drag performances, burlesque and raffles. It is usually held at the Den in late March. However, this year’s event will take place at Dickens Pub on 9th St. SW on March 24.

“I reached out into the community and we found one of our allies in the community, James Demers, who set us up with Dickens,” Wierzbicki said. “They’re hosting us there at no cost.”

SU vice-president operations and finance Branden Cave defended the policy change. He said it makes booking cabarets at the Den more secure for both clubs and the SU.

“You know that this is your cost, you know that this is how many tickets you’re going to need to sell in order to be able to recover that and it’s a much more simple process,” Cave said. “We get the money that we need to run the space and clubs can keep whatever money on top of that and put it towards their other initiatives and events.”

The policy has been in place since last spring. According to Cave, three club cabarets have been booked under the new policy at the Den since September 2016 — the Indian Students’ Association, the Iranian Graduate Students’ Association and the Afro Students’ Association.

Wierzbicki said it’s a shame that Queers on Campus is unable to host the event at the U of C this year.

“Such a big part of being a queer organization is the ability to take possession of a space and particularly to be prominent and unapologetic in that occupation,” he said. “I believe we are the only queer event that happens in the Den.”

Cave said the policy will be reviewed at the end of the year to judge its success.

“We’re going to look at this, look at the data and sit down at the end of the year and review it,” he said. “See if there’s anywhere where our costs have decreased or where student input needs to be considered.”

Wierzbicki hopes Gender Bender will be able to return to campus next year. He said it’s an important night for the U of C.

“The first year I attended was the first year I’d ever tried drag,” he said. “Being on campus at that time, it’s this incredible experience where — particularly as you get closer to the event —  you start seeing more and more people in drag. And there’s people pointing and snickering and doing typical bro things, but it’s such an amazing opportunity.”

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