Transphobic response to Canmore Pride causes backlash for food company

The pride group had written an email to Valbella Gourmet Foods hoping for a donation for an upcoming BBQ

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WARNING: Story contains transphobic and homophobic content.

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A food company in Canmore is facing a backlash over a transphobic response to a donation request by Canmore Pride.

As the Canmore Pride Society prepares for its second annual celebration, the volunteer-led group has been reaching out to local businesses to ask for sponsorships. The group’s co-chair, K Kealey, sent an email to Valbella Gourmet Foods to ask for donations for an upcoming BBQ and was shocked by the response.

The response was signed by Jeff von Rotz, whose email signature identified him as the deli’s owner. He started the email with a dig at Kealey’s single-letter name, then continued with transphobic and homophobic remarks.

“I’m sorry to say but you could not pay me to sponsor anything to do with child grooming tranny’s [sic].

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“Please keep these sick people away from the children of this community, you should be disgusted with yourselves.”

He added that he’s sure there would be “some woke organization mentally ill enough to help” the group with their event, but it “isn’t Valbella’s.”

Kealey, who identifies by the pronouns they and them, said they were disappointed and hurt by the response.

“I shared the email because I was concerned about the safety of my own community and, as a trans person myself, I was thinking I didn’t want to go into that place or if I would be safe there anymore,” Kealey said Wednesday .

Canmore Pride is scheduled for Sept. 15 to 18, and all businesses hosting events are required to take diversity and inclusion training to create safe spaces for the LGBTQ community year-round, said Kealey.

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“We think we deserve spaces where people can go and be safe, and not only be safe but be fully accepted,” they said. “There are so many great people out here and they deserve better and deserve to exist in spaces as who they are and feel embraced for that.”

Chantal von Rotz — Jeff’s sister and the daughter of the company’s founders, Walter and Leonie von Rotz — said in a post online Tuesday that Jeff has been removed from the company and its operations.

“The owners and leadership of Valbella Gourmet Foods express their deepest apologies to the Canmore LGBTQ+ community for an intolerant email that was sent (Tuesday) by one of our former team members,” said Chantal.

She said her words do not reflect the opinions of the Valbella team and that the company strives to make its workplace inclusive.

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In an emailed statement to Postmedia, Chantal added to the online apology to clarify that Jeff was the former president, and though he used the title, it is not an owner. The ownership remains with their parents, and Jeff was terminated effective Tuesday.

She said the company has taken further action since Tuesday evening, which includes reaching out to the LGBTQ community to apologize.

“We hope to soon be able to work with experts from the LGBTQ+ community to implement new training and education,” said Chantal. “Our priority is regaining the community’s trust.”

Valbella Gourmet Foods was founded by the von Rotzes in 1978 and has grown into a 40,000-square-foot production plant.

Chantal said a thorough review of internal policies is underway and the company will implement a new equity, diversity and inclusion policy to make sure employees feel supported.

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Kealey said Chantal has reached out to them and apologized on behalf of Jeff.

“I think the statement lacked accountability and action as to how Valbella will be working toward mending and healing some of the harm they’ve done to our community. Their words cut deep for me, and it’s very triggering for a lot of people in our community,” said Kealey.

“I don’t think they truly understand the impact of those words.”

Kealey said they and the rest of the Canmore Pride group are, however, overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from others in the community. They’ve received donations of money and supplies for the September Pride event.

Canmore Mayor Sean Krausert said in an online statement that the town proudly stands in solidarity with LGBTQ residents and visitors “who make this town a more vibrant and diverse place to call home.”

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“We are all valuable members of the community,” said Krausert. “We are enriched and stronger in spirit when we embrace all the wonderful culture, experiences, skills and identities that individuals have to offer.”

FILE PHOTO: The Pride crosswalk at the rear entrance of the Canmore Civic Center on May 7, 2021.
FILE PHOTO: The Pride crosswalk at the rear entrance of the Canmore Civic Center on May 7, 2021. Marie Conboy/Postmedia

Several businesses that worked with Valbella Gourmet Foods have posted statements that they will no longer be doing business with the Canmore deli. The page on Valbella’s website listing its retail partners has been removed.

The Banff Center for Arts and Creativity said in a statement that it will remove all Valbella products from company operations and has ceased all business relations.

The Fairmont Hotels at Jasper Park Lodge and Banff Springs said it will no longer work with or purchase from Valbella. Blush Lane and SPUD posted statements saying they have discontinued their relationships with Valbella.

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Dan Berezan, founder and CEO of online Alberta farmer’s market Cultivatr, said in a statement his company has immediately suspended selling products from Valbella. The Canmore business was a vendor on the website.

“At Cultivatr, we have no place for hate of any kind,” said Berezan. “We have received tremendous support from the LBGTQIA2S+ community and we want you to know that we appreciate you and we support you right back.”

ACME Meat Market promised to halt future purchases of Valbella products and will donate any existing stock. And Monki Bistro said it will remove all Valbella products from the restaurant.

Canmore Folk Festival said it has returned a donation from Valbella in full.

After taking a day to determine how to respond, Sunterra Market released a statement Wednesday that it will also cease all business relationships with Valbella.

“Some may see the time we took to have these conversations as a concern. Please know this was done solely to consider all those affected by our decisions,” said the market.

“We believe Sunterra’s choice to cut ties with the company will have a significant impact on their 50 team members and their families.”

Canada’s Trans Lifeline support number is 877-330-6366, the Calgary Distress Center’s 24-hour line is 403-266-4357 and more resources for trans people, friends and family in Alberta are available at skippingstone.ca.

sbabych@postmedia.com
Twitter: @BabychStephanie

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