Canmore gourmet company dumps president who sent transphobic email

Warning: This story contains transphobic and homophobic language.

A major gourmet food supplier, caterer and retailer in Canmore, Alta., has kicked its CEO out of 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 will take place in mid-September.

The response — with a series of conspiratorial, transphobic and homophobic insults — surprised Canmore Pride co-chair K Kealey.

“I was really shocked and of course 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 emphasizes these terrible stigmas that are really dangerous to our community.”

The email, signed by Jeff von Rotz, reiterated falsehoods about transgender people as dangerous to children and perpetrators of violence.

Valbella Gourmet Foods owner Jeff von Rotz’s response to a Canmore Pride sponsorship request. (K Keley)

But in reality, it is transgender people who are at risk for violence and abuse, Kealey said.

“It is extremely harmful and disturbing,” they said.

Kealey said he posted the email to a private messaging group of queer people living in the Bow Valley to let the community know how the company treats transgender people and that it may not be a safe place for them.

“Everyone was very angry and upset that someone said something like that,” she added.

The message was eventually posted on Twitter, where the wider community expressed their support for Canmore Pride, sparking a social media storm.

The company released a statement on its Facebook page Tuesday afternoon after users began calling major clients such as Fairmont Hotels and the Banff Center to cut ties with Valbella.

The statement, signed by 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 activities.

“The words of one person do not reflect the opinion of the many people who work within the Valbella team,” the message reads. “On the contrary, we strive to make our company an inclusive workplace where everyone is welcome.”

The email, written by Jeff von Rotz, speaks of the false claims common among right-wing conspiracy theories that LGBTQ people are preparing children for abuse, claiming that there is another “mentally ill enough awake organization to help you.”

“I’m sorry to say it, but you couldn’t pay me to sponsor something related to taking care of children…,” he wrote.

Jeff von Rotz signed the email as 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 tenure ended on July 26.

Social media users scrolled through the list of companies that Valbella offers 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 City of Canmore also released a statement stating its solidarity with the LGBTQ community in a response posted to Facebook later that day.

Kealey called the response “paniced” 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 company.

Valbella could also go much further, according to Kealey, to redeem herself. They can share how Jeff von Rotz was removed and explain some steps they can take to undo some of the damage caused by his comments.

CBC News made an interview request to Jeff von Rotz, but received no response. A request was made to the company, but CBC News was referred 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 offer our deepest apologies.
  • We hope to be able to work with experts from the LGBTQ+ community soon 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 implement a new equity, diversity and inclusion policy.
  • We want to ensure that our employees have a supportive environment and we offer them support.

Kealey sees the ordeal as a learning opportunity where the community can do more than just support the community during Pride.

“I think this is a great example of why we still need space for people from marginalized communities,” they said.

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