Warning: This story contains transphobic and homophobic language.
A major gourmet food supplier, caterer and retailer in Canmore, Alta., has removed its CEO from the company after sending a transphobic email to organizers of Pride events in that city.
Canmore Pride had contacted the Valbella Gourmet Foods property to inquire about sponsorship or food donations for a “free, inclusive rock climbing event” during Canmore Pride which takes place in mid-September.
The response – containing a series of conspiratorial, transphobic and homophobic slurs – surprised Canmore Pride co-chairman K Kealey.
“I was really shocked and obviously very disappointed,” they said. “I’m a trans person myself, so it’s also very harmful and still so disappointing when, you know, people still think that way. And a lot of his message just highlights these horrible stigmas that are really dangerous for our community.”
The email, signed by Jeff von Rotz, repeated untruths about trans people as dangerous to children and perpetrators of violence.
But in reality, it’s trans people who are at risk of violence and abuse, Kealey said.
“It is extremely harmful and upsetting,” they said.
Kealey said he posted the email to a private message group of queer people living in the Bow Valley to let the community know how the company treats trans people and that it may not be. a safe space for them.
“Everyone was very angry and upset that someone said something like that,” they added.
The message was eventually posted on Twitter, where the wider community voiced their support for Canmore Pride, causing a social media storm.
The company released a statement Tuesday afternoon on its Facebook page after users began calling on major customers such as Fairmont Hotels and the Banff Center to cut ties with Valbella.
Signed by Chantal von Rotz, the statement 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.
“One person’s words do not reflect the opinions of the many people who work within the Valbella team,” the post read. “On the contrary, we strive to make our company an inclusive workplace where everyone is welcome.”
The email, written by Jeff von Rotz, speaks to the false claims common among right-wing conspiracy theories that LGBTQ people are grooming children for abuse, claiming there is another “mentally ill enough woke organization to help you”.
“I’m sorry to say, but you couldn’t pay me to sponsor anything related to grooming children t—-“, he wrote.
Jeff von Rotz signed the email as the owner, but Chantal von Rotz later clarified that the owners and founders of Valbella Gourmet Foods are parents Walter and Leonie von Rotz. She said Jeff von Rotz held the official title of president and his employment ended on July 26.
Following recent communications that have been made public within the Bow Valley and Valbella Gourmet Foods community today, Banff Center has elected to remove all Valbella products from company operations and will seize any business relationships.
Social media users scrolled through the list of companies that Valbella provides and asked them to stop buying from the company.
Several Valbella customers later said they were canceling their contracts, including the Banff Center and Fairmont hotels.
The Town of Canmore also released a statement saying it stands in solidarity with the LGBTQ community in a response posted to Facebook later that day.
The Town of Canmore is proud to stand in solidarity with its 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 all. pic.twitter.com/ydPLz3px52
Kealey called the response “panicked” and unclear as the public said they would no longer support the company, wondering if the family business had really taken Jeff out of the business.
Valbella could also go much further to redeem themselves, according to Kealey. They could talk about how Jeff von Rotz was removed and explain some steps they can take to undo some of the harm caused by his comments.
CBC News made an interview request to Jeff von Rotz but did not receive a response. A request was made to the company, but CBC News was directed to the statement on Facebook.
Later Wednesday, Chantal von Rotz told CBC News via email that the company would take further action, including:
- We are reaching out to the LGBTQ+ community to express our deepest apologies.
- We hope to soon be able to work with experts from the LGBTQ+ community to implement new training and education.
- Our priority is to regain the trust of the community. We are working on a more detailed community support plan and will share more details as soon as possible.
- We are conducting a thorough review of our internal policies and will be implementing a new Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Policy.
- We want to make sure that our employees have a supportive environment and we offer them support.
Kealey sees the ordeal as a teachable moment where the community can do more than just support the community during Pride.
“I think this is a great example of why we continue to need spaces specifically for people from marginalized communities,” they said.