Warning: This story contains homophobic language.
A prominent gourmet food supplier, caterer and retailer in Canmore, Alta., has removed one of its owners from running the company after he sent a transphobic email to organizers of that town’s Pride events.
Canmore Pride had reached out to ownership of Valbella Gourmet Foods to inquire about sponsorship or food donations for an “inclusive and free climbing event” during Canmore Pride that takes place in mid-September.
The response — containing a series of conspiracy-laden, transphobic and homophobic insults — took Canmore Pride co-chair K Kealey aback.
“I was really shocked and obviously very disappointed,” they said. “I’m a trans person myself, so it’s also very harmful and always so disappointing when, you know, people still think think that way. And a lot of his message just brings forward these horrible stigmas that are really dangerous to our community.”
The email, signed by owner Jeff von Rotz, repeated untruths about trans people as dangerous to children and perpetrators of violence. But in reality it is trans people who are in danger of being on the receiving end of violence and abuse, Kealey said.
“It’s extremely harmful and upsetting,” Kealey said.
Kealey said they posted the email on a private message group of queer people who live in the Bow Valley to let the community know how the owners were treating trans people and that it may not be a safe space for them to patronize.
“Everyone was very angry and upset that someone would say something like that,” Kealey said.
The message was eventually posted on Twitter, where the wider community expressed support for Canmore Pride, causing a social media storm.
The company released a statement Tuesday afternoon after users began calling on major customers such as Fairmont Hotels and the Banff Centre to cut ties with Valbella.
Owner Chantal von Rotz apologized for the email and said the person who wrote the email has been removed from the company and is no longer responsible for its operations.
“The words of the one person do not reflect the opinions of the many people who work as part of the Valbella team,” the post reads. “On the contrary, we strive to make our company an inclusive workplace where all are welcome.”
The email, written by Jeff von Rotz, talks about the false claims common among right-wing conspiracy theories of LGBTQ people grooming children for child abuse, saying there would be some other “woke organization mentally ill enough to help you.”
“I’m sorry to say but you could not pay me to sponsor anything to do with child grooming t—-,” he wrote.
Following the recent communications that were made public within the Bow Valley community and Valbella Gourmet Foods today, Banff Centre has chosen to remove all Valbella products from company operations and will seize any business relations.
Social media users went through the list of businesses Valbella supplies and called on them to stop buying from the business.
Several clients of Valbella’s later said they are cancelling their contracts, including the Banff Centre and Fairmont Hotels.
The Town of Canmore also released a statement saying it stands in solidarity with the LGBTQ community in a response posted on Facebook later in the day.
The Town of Canmore proudly stands in solidarity with our LGTBQIA2S+ residents and visitors who make this town a more vibrant and diverse place to call home. Our municipal buildings and programs are safe spaces for everyone. <a href=”https://t.co/ydPLz3px52″>pic.twitter.com/ydPLz3px52</a>
Kealey called the response “panicked” and unclear as the public said they would no longer support the business, wondering whether the family company had truly removed Jeff from the business.
“I’m just not sure how you remove an owner of a family business,” they said. “His email signature said owner, and as well, if they do remove him, is there a guarantee he won’t continue to profit off the business?”
Valbella could also go a lot further in making amends, according to Kealey. They could say how Jeff von Rotz was removed and explain some actions they can take to undo some of the harm done by his comments.
CBC News made interview requests to both Jeff von Rotz and to the company but did not receive a response.
Kealey sees the ordeal as a teachable moment that the community can do more than just support the community during Pride.
“I think this is a prime example of why we continue to need spaces specifically for people in marginalized communities,” they said.