Canmore gourmet business dumps president who sent transphobic email

Warning: This story contains transphobic and homophobic language.

A prominent gourmet food supplier, caterer and retailer in Canmore, Alta., has removed its president 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 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 Jeff von Rotz, repeated untruths about trans people as dangerous to children and perpetrators of violence.

The response from Valbella Gourmet Foods owner Jeff von Rotz to a request for sponsorship from Canmore pride. (K Kealey)

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,” they 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 business was 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,” they added.

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 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.

“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.

Jeff von Rotz signed the email as owner, but Chantal von Rotz later clarified 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 that his employment was terminated effective July 26.

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 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 on Facebook later in the day.

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.

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 an interview request to Jeff von Rotz but did not receive a response. A request to the company was made but CBC News was directed to the statement on Facebook.

Chantal von Rotz later Wednesday told CBC News via email that the company would be taking further actions that include:

  • We are reaching out to the LGBTQ+ community to express our most sincere apologies.
  • We hope to soon be able to work with experts from the LGBTQ+ community to implement new training and education.
  • Our priority is regaining the community’s trust. We are working on a more detailed plan of community support and will share more details as soon as possible.
  • We are doing a thorough review of our internal policies and will be implementing a new equity, diversity and inclusion policy.
  • We want to make sure our employees have a supportive environment and we are making support available for them.

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.