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Karla Marx outside the Twisted Element bar in Calgary before a show on July 13. Marx will be co-hosting the Calgary Stampede Drag Brunch at Nashville North on July 17.Leah Hennel/The Globe and Mail

Calgary-based drag performer Karla Marx has been a part of unofficial Stampede-themed drag events in previous years but they have always been on the periphery of the city’s largest annual fair.

That is changing this year, as the Stampede is holding a drag brunch for the first time at its wild Nashville North party tent this Sunday. Karla Marx, the stage name of performer Victoria Bucholtz, will co-host the brunch alongside Drag Race France host Nicky Doll, with performances by two-spirited queen Argintina Hailey-Lawrence, Valerie Hunt and Felicia Bonée, among others.

“As a lifelong Albertan, being a part of this celebration of our culture and heritage is important, but it is also important that this reflects Alberta today,” Ms. Bucholtz says. “The ideal we need to keep striving towards: a diverse, inclusive, vibrant community.”

Ms. Bucholtz said the queer and drag community has faced less hostility and has found more acceptance during Stampede week in recent years.

“With the increased popularity of drag year-round, more and more queer art forms have been represented,” she said.

While this weekend’s drag brunch is the Stampede’s first official LGBTQ event on the grounds, Charles Macmichael has been running the annual (unofficial) Pride Day on the first Saturday of the festival since 2013. Originally dubbed Gay Day, the annual queer gathering on the grounds now sees thousands of attendees as well as a variety of queer performers taking the stage.

After the first few years, he said, the Calgary Stampede began to incorporate its queer-friendly initiatives into his gathering at Nashville North and the relationship has grown. While it’s still not an official event, it’s possible that 2023 – the Stampede Pride Day’s 10th anniversary – may be the year it finally becomes one.

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“We have full integration of planning with the Stampede and are so grateful for their support and professionalism,” said Mr. Macmichael, noting that the Stampede included details about Pride Day in its news release.

He noted that the Stampede also added all-gender bathrooms in the Nashville North space for Pride Day.

Like Ms. Bucholtz, he has seen a huge uptick in Stampede-themed drag events happening all around Calgary during the first two weeks of July. From the Cowboys Music Festival to the Wildhorse Saloon and more, the success of mid- to large-scale drag brunches locally was likely a factor in the Stampede opting to do one of its own.

“I hope that the success of events like this encourages leadership within the Stampede organization to continue to work toward increasing active inclusion-oriented events on-park and throughout their year-round programming,” he said. “I very much want to see an all-ages queer event on park in 2023 that supports queer parents and families and queer youth, who currently can’t partake in Pride Day and the brunches due to the 18-plus entry requirements.”

Stampede programming director Kyle Russell said organizers were excited to feature drag talent on the midway.

Other drag brunches happening during the final weekend of the Stampede include Drag Me To Brunch at Cowboys Music Festival, WERK Stampede Brunch at Wildhorse Saloon (both Saturday) and Twisted Element’s weekly brunch (Sunday).

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